It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hanson. I congratulate Nic Dakin on securing this debate. It is massively important that we focus on the opportunities for our young people, and on giving them the skills they need to take those opportunities and make the most of their lives. In Somerset we have some great opportunities, but delivering the skills required to take advantage of them is a major challenge in some areas.
I want to thank the Government for their attention to secondary schools within the adjustment of the funding formula that has been proposed. That goes some way towards outlining and improving some of the opportunities, but I think it is absolutely right that this debate has highlighted some of the anomalies in the education system for 16 to 19-year-olds. Secondary schools find some aspects very challenging. For example, in rural areas such as mine, where there is not a major university close by, it is quite hard to recruit staff, and that all has an impact on what can be delivered.
In Yeovil we have a great sixth-form college, which provides terrific opportunities and has done a great job of improving its standards over recent years, but I just want to highlight one or two of the challenges it is facing. We have heard about the VAT anomaly, and I would like to reiterate that. I would also like to say that, in general, applying for funding to renovate existing buildings and capital stock, to keep the experience as we would want it to be, is actually very hard. That is because applications now go from the LEP pot, and unless a particular building has a LEP-approved priority as its basis, it will not get the funding. The sixth-form college in Yeovil is struggling with that.
I would also like to highlight the new regulations that have come into the Insolvency Act 1986, which essentially allow colleges to go bust. That puts pressure on their financing. They are unable to refinance their existing loans without having to pay very large redemption fees, and that limits what they are able to do. I think Barclays and Lloyds are the main players in that business. If the Minister looked at that in particular, I would be grateful.
I am also very grateful for the Minister’s attention to the Somerset Skills and Learning business, and thank her for arranging the meeting on Monday. That has serious challenges, but I thank her for her intervention on it.