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Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I fully understand the need to speed up those projects and colleges to which a financial commitment has been made, but Loughborough is well down the track in terms of planning and development. Will my hon. Friend ensure that colleges such as Loughborough are not precluded from the process? More importantly—and this ties in with the industrial strategy that my right
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hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned earlier—will he ensure that the smaller capital projects that would probably involve colleges such as Loughborough do not get lost in the morass of existing problems and difficulties? Loughborough has a close proximity to the university and is developing many advanced manufacturing technologies. Many good but smaller projects can have a significant impact and they should not be lost in the big picture.

Mr. Simon: My hon. Friend makes a very good point on behalf of his college in Loughborough, as one would expect. No college is precluded from the process: the LSC, in partnership with the Association of Colleges, is prioritising the most urgent and highest priority cases, but all colleges will be part of the process. The LSC is considering its decisions on this matter, and its criteria will include value for money, education and skills and the impact of investment, but I would have thought that it is also bound to take into account the potential benefit of being able to fund relatively small projects. Being small will certainly not be a bar to being considered in the future.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): The West Herts college is a fantastic facility that looks after students in Watford and Hemel Hempstead. The capital programme that has been going on for some time has finished in Watford, but now the LSC has said that the final part of the project—the part for Hemel Hempstead—is to be regarded as a new project. The LSC has moved the goalposts halfway through the capital project, so will the Minister meet me and the college’s principal, Elizabeth Rushton, to explain exactly how it was able to do that? Coming halfway through the programme, the change will have a devastating effect on the town centre redevelopment that the college is part of.

Mr. Simon: The hon. Gentleman puts the case for his college very well. He would not expect me to comment on the individual case, but I would be more than happy to meet him and his college principal. I have met more than 40 hon. Members and their college—

Mike Penning: The 41st wouldn’t hurt.

Mr. Simon: The hon. Gentleman can be the 41st. There are more than a dozen in the diary, and I should be very glad to add him to the list and to see his college principal.

Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): The £300 million announced in the Budget is not nearly enough to fund the approvals in detail or the approvals in principle that are already with the LSC. Clearly, that means that a rationing exercise will have to take place, and that an awful lot of college schemes simply will not proceed. We need some certainty for colleges and students, and for the building contractors and architects whose jobs are at stake. When will the Minister or the LSC be able to tell the colleges that the plans that they have already worked up and spent resources on will not be able to proceed any further?

Mr. Simon: Nobody is claiming or pretending that the £300 million of new cash that we got in the Budget to spend on building new projects this year is enough to
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solve a problem that clearly will not go away overnight. The process will remain difficult and will continue to take some time, but we will be able to bring certainty to urgent and high-priority cases within a few weeks. Colleges that are not able to move at that speed know that we have £750 million available to spend on new college building programmes, going forward. Over the course of the next period we will be able to prioritise, so that, relatively soon, colleges can begin to have a sense of where they stand, and of roughly when they can begin to build.

Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con): It is quite clear that our colleges were driven by the Government to spend a fortune on new building plans. Owing to economic mismanagement, the Government now say that they do not have the cash to deliver on their side of the bargain. As a result, hard-pressed colleges up and down the country have lost huge sums of their own money. I recently visited a victim of the crisis, Matthew Boulton college in Birmingham, Erdington, and it stands to lose tens of millions of pounds. So, Mr. Speaker, I would like to offer the Minister, who is the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, the opportunity to come to the Dispatch Box now and apologise to the students, his college and his constituents. The offer is an open offer. Will he take the opportunity?

Mr. Simon: I hate to point out to the hon. Gentleman that he does not know what he is talking about, but Matthew Boulton college is not in Birmingham, Erdington. Everything else that he said was wrong, too. We will be spending £827 million on college building projects this year, £300 million of which is new money. The LSC mismanaged this project, but it is being resolved and we are bringing clarity and certainty to colleges, which is much needed and in good order.

Learning and Skills Council

5. Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow) (Lab): What recent representations he has received on the review of the Learning and Skills Council's capital funding programme; and if he will make a statement. [271880]

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): As the House would imagine, I have received many representations about the LSC capital programme, and I have endeavoured to keep the House informed about it. I am grateful to Sir Andrew Foster for setting out clearly how, despite record investment in FE capital programmes, the LSC capital programme came to be over-committed.

In the Budget, we announced an additional £300 million of capital funding for the current spending review. This will enable a limited number of projects to start soon. The LSC is now working with the Association of Colleges, the wider FE sector and my Department to agree the criteria for prioritising the projects that are the most urgent and of the greatest need.

Mr. Hepburn: Does the Minister agree that the decision on which colleges should be given the go-ahead should be based on need and not on who jumped the gun like in some wild west land grab? If so, does he agree that
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youth unemployment should be a major factor in assessing need? South Tyneside has more than 2,000 young people unemployed, so should it not be top priority?

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is vital that the prioritisation reflects real need, value for money and the impact of the investment that is proposed in a college. My hon. Friend is a strong advocate for South Tyneside college, and I commend him for it. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has said, we cannot and should not prejudge the decisions that the LSC will take, but they must be taken according to criteria that are seen to be fair, transparent and right.

Martin Horwood (Cheltenham) (LD): I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his letter and to the Minister for agreeing to meet me next week along with the principal of National Star college. We hope to establish that the college is one of the most deserving cases as it works entirely with young people with extreme physical disabilities and is half way through the capital transformation of its campus. If the additional funding that is being provided is taken from subsequent years’ budgets, will we not be solving some of the problem this year, but creating further problems in future years?

Mr. Denham: The Budget settlement has two elements that are important in bringing certainty and clarity, or as much certainty and clarity as we can, to the current situation. The first is that we have an additional £300 million to spend in this comprehensive spending review, so far as possible front-loaded towards the coming months rather than the latter end of the CSR. The second is the ability to plan into the next CSR at an indicative target of at least £300 million, which gives us the ability to look not just at the work that can be carried out in the next two years, but at how the programme beyond that can develop. By doing that, we hope that we can bring the greatest certainty and clarity to as many schemes as possible, not just in the next couple of years but in the years beyond that.

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Where the LSC has agreed to a merger between two colleges, as has happened with Sparsholt college and the former Cricklade college in my constituency, and part of the deal was agreement to substantial capital investment on both campuses to deliver the benefits of the merger, can the Secretary of State confirm that those circumstances will have a high priority in deciding which schemes will go ahead?

Mr. Denham: I do not think that I should go further than what I said in my answer about the need for the criteria set out by the LSC to be fair and transparent and to produce the right educational priorities. Every right hon. and hon. Member can clearly argue for the priority that would most fit their case, but my comment is that we should have, so far as possible, a set of criteria that people would think fair. As Sir Andrew Foster set out, we are in a position where expectations were raised in a much larger number of colleges than could be met, albeit with the record expenditure of £2.3 billion that we have. [ Interruption. ] That is set out in Sir Andrew Foster’s report.

This is clearly a failure of the implementation of a good policy, and it is clearly something for which the former chief executive of LSC took responsibility. The
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report also sets out clearly Ministers’ role—or, indeed, lack of role—and the lack of information to Ministers as that situation developed. I now have to try to manage the situation in a way that is as fair as possible to the largest number of colleges. That is the commitment that I can make, but I remind the hon. Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett), who intervened from a sedentary position, that his colleague, the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), went to the Association of Colleges conference last year and said that no one could rely on a Conservative Government even to maintain the then planned expenditure for 2010-11. So there is a huge question mark over the Conservative party’s commitment to FE capital, as there was in the past.

Mr. David Evennett (Bexleyheath and Crayford) (Con): The Foster report on the Government’s mismanagement of the Building Colleges for the Future programme states that the crisis is both predictable and probably avoidable. Colleges across the country are suffering at present, and many plans have had to be suspended. Concerns about the project were raised as long ago as February 2008. The Secretary of State’s Department was represented at subsequent meetings where those concerns were repeated. As his officials knew of an impending crisis, why did he not do something about it sooner? Is he not ashamed of the shambles surrounding the programme?

Mr. Denham: The Foster report sets out very clearly where responsibility lies, and as the hon. Gentleman says, it sets out missed opportunities in the LSC to bring the issue to a head and to resolve it. We have accepted the conclusions and recommendations of the Foster report. It is a matter of fact and of record, which was accepted by Sir Andrew, that Ministers were not informed of the scale, nature and, indeed, existence of the problem until the last two months of last year, by which time all the decisions that had contributed to the current problem had been already taken. One of Sir Andrew’s recommendations was that my Department should look at the relationship and accountabilities between my civil servants and the non-departmental public bodies for which we are responsible. In part of my response to Sir Andrew Foster’s report, I asked the permanent secretary of my Department to review all our relationships with our non-departmental public bodies, so that there is no ambiguity or uncertainty about the responsibilities and accountability of officials who have relationships with those bodies. I think that that was the right response for me to make to Sir Andrew’s report.

Adult and Community Learning

6. Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): What arrangements his Department has made for adult and community learning provision in 2009-10; and if he will make a statement. [271881]

The Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): We will invest £210 million in adult community learning in England in 2009-10. We also recently published “The Learning Revolution” White Paper, setting out our
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ambitious vision for informal learning in the 21st century, with an additional £30 million funding for such learning this year.

Mr. Scott: I thank the Minister for his reply, but is this not just a cover for the £1.5 million-worth of cuts that the Government brought in for these services in 2005?

Mr. Lammy: I am surprised to hear the hon. Gentleman repeat that, because he will know that what his constituents need, particularly at this time, is investment in skills, particularly through Train to Gain, in the workplace. That is precisely what we have done and what we are continuing to do. He should separate that from the learning revolution strategy and, quite rightly, the new investment that we are now making in learning for learning’s sake and in all the fantastic activity that is going on in constituencies such as his in supporting book clubs and work funded by other Departments. That is what we are doing, and it is the right thing to do.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Adult education in Wolverhampton is run by the city council, which is controlled by the Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats in a rotten coalition. I urge my right hon. Friend to take no lessons from the Conservative party—the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Scott) referred to cuts of £1.5 million—because in Wolverhampton alone, the Tory coalition has cut £640,000 from adult education. Will my right hon. Friend join me in condemning that as disgraceful?

Mr. Lammy: It is a disgrace; my hon. Friend is right. It is also a disgrace that the official Opposition indicate that they will make cuts of £610 million, but give no sign of where the axe would fall.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Will the Minister pay attention and look at the college of West Anglia, which has a fantastic reputation for adult and community learning provision? Is he aware that it was granted in principle funding for two new sites, with capital expenditure of £150 million, but that that has been put on hold? The college has spent all its reserves and made major commitments. Is he aware that the project was to have been part of a major regeneration programme in south King’s Lynn and an aspect of a key skills agenda in an area where unemployment is going up?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman puts his case, as have many hon. Members. I refer him to what has been said.

Further Education

7. Mr. John Baron (Billericay) (Con): How many publicly funded further education courses there were in (a) Billericay constituency and (b) England in (i) 2005 and (ii) 2008. [271882]

The Minister of State, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): In 2005-06, 3.85 million adult learners resident in England participated in LSC-funded skills courses. In 2007-08, that total
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was 3.28 million. The corresponding figures for the Billericay constituency were 5,960 in 2005-06, and 5,060 in 2007-08.

Mr. Baron: Given that answer, may I raise the issue of bureaucracy? According to the Association of Colleges, the funding system for FE colleges is too slow and too many rules restrict the flow of money between funding pots. Given the fall in FE enrolments that the Minister outlined, not would it be wise for the Government to cut bureaucracy and red tape instead of increasing it by creating new quangos?

Mr. Lammy: I ask the hon. Gentleman to follow closely the passage of the Bill before Parliament that brings into being, with precisely that aim, the Skills Funding Agency. One of the first things that I was able to do as skills Minister was to ensure that we made more moves to deal with any bureaucracy attached to Train to Gain. We are making progress and we will continue to do so.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): We heard from the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), that potential apprentices are being turned away and from my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) that the capital funding crisis could have been avoided. While the ship is on the rocks, the Government, as my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Baron) said, intend to reorganise the crew. The changes to the Learning and Skills Council will cost £42 million in vacating properties and a further £190 million in transferring pensions. In confirming those figures, will the Minister recognise that it is time that his lot jumped overboard and gave way to a new team who can steer us to calmer waters?

Mr. Lammy: I always look forward to facing the hon. Gentleman across the Dispatch Box. As always, we do not recognise his figures. We have just had a lengthy Budget debate in which we set out the efficiency savings that we intend to make, and I am surprised that he was not paying attention.

Building Colleges for the Future Programme

9. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West) (Con): What recent progress has been made in implementing the Government's Building Colleges for the Future programme; and if he will make a statement. [271885]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. Siôn Simon): In 2008-09, the Learning and Skills Council FE capital budget of £547 million helped to support the development of 253 projects. The LSC has supported more than 700 projects at nearly 330 colleges, with only 42 colleges not benefiting from any capital support. More than half the college estate has been modernised, and we remain committed to the FE capital investment programme. The 2009 Budget announced that an additional £300 million of capital funding will be made available in the current spending review period. Also, for planning purposes, we are working on the basis of a provisional programme budget of £300 million a year in the next spending review, with the final level of investment to be confirmed during that review.

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