Today’s debate is particularly important to me as Salford city college and other further education institutions in my constituency have had to battle savage cuts over the past five years. The college is under review as part of the Government’s post-16 areas review policy. Indeed, Salford city college was one of the 129 colleges to sign the open letter sent to the Chancellor earlier this month. I wish to make clear my support for them.
In the previous Parliament the education budget for 16 to 19-year-olds fell by 14% in real terms. Funding for 18 and 19-year-olds was cut further, so provision for these students is 17.5% lower than for students aged 16 and 17. In July the National Audit Office reported that the
“financial health of the FE college sector had been declining since 2010”.
In addition, the Further Education Commissioner warned that over 55% of colleges will be in financial difficulty by the end of next year.
Despite these clear warnings, I fear that the Chancellor appears to be gearing up for another round of cuts to further education in the spending review next week. Let me be clear. Colleges in my constituency cannot cope with further cuts to their budgets. The city college has already had to lose teachers and support staff, make cuts in pastoral care and extracurricular activities, and drop a number of courses just to survive. These services were not a luxury. They were integral to ensuring that the young people of Salford participated and excelled in education. A person who comes from a poor background and whose family has suffered the savage effects of a lack of education and poor employment prospects for generations could be forgiven for feeling that aspiration was not for them, but only for a select few. Pastoral care and a wide range of courses are key to lifting these people out of poverty and breaking the cycle for their future children.
Without this support, how many young people will fall through the cracks of our education system? This is not just a bad thing in and of itself, but economically short-sighted. Education is critical for employment, especially in constituencies such as mine that have suffered from de-industrialisation and need both new jobs and a workforce equipped to do them. MediaCityUK, for example, is the hub of media creativity in the UK and is a fantastic asset to our city, but when it opened hardly anybody there came from Salford, and we have had to work hard and fight tooth and nail locally to ensure that we have educational courses to upskill our young people and make sure that they can be employed there. This is all under threat.
From the Conservative Government’s rhetoric, one would think that they support the institutions that allow people who work hard to get on, but the cuts already inflicted on further education services and the threat of more to come tell a completely different story. How do the Government expect people to improve their skills when the vehicle for doing so is breaking down? How do they expect these young people when they grow older to gain well-paid employment that will ensure that they do not have to depend on financial assistance from the Government? This is not long-term economic planning, as the Chancellor would have us believe, and it does not lend itself to a sustainable welfare system in the future.