My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) spoke particularly powerfully of his experience in Bosnia, reminding us, as did others, of genocides that followed the holocaust. His first-hand experience of death and destruction and man’s inhumanity to man in Bosnia is sadly one that I, too, have had,

24 Jan 2013 : Column 561

because I was there during the height of the fighting, although not for anything like the same length of time. I will never forget my experiences there, and they influence me in the work that I do today. My hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) also talked about Bosnia and the need, even today, to tackle the evils of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) reminded us that the impulses, as he put it, which led to the holocaust sadly remain and have led to more recent genocides. I was particularly impressed by his reminders, through his own personal contacts, of the amazing stories of courage of people who sought to protect Jews from the Nazis.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) spoke of another genocide—that in Rwanda. He also described his experience of visiting the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with a group of students and the impact that it had on those students. My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) reminded us that it could happen again.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) talked of his life-changing experience on a visit, this time to the Yad Vashem museum, and the powerful film footage that he saw of survivors. He asked me a question about holocaust education remaining in our educational provision. It is, as he may know, part of the history curriculum at key stage 3. A major curriculum review is under way, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education will listen to his views on the matter.

I know that we all share a strong desire to make sure that the flame of remembrance continues to shine strongly in our society. I was delighted that the 294 Members of Parliament who signed the book of commitment included the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Speaker, and you, Mr Deputy Speaker. As the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside reminded us, Holocaust memorial day came about following a Member of Parliament’s visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with the Holocaust Educational Trust. So moved was Andrew Dismore, the former Member for Hendon, that in 1999 he proposed a Bill to introduce a day to learn about and remember the holocaust. Two years later, London hosted the first Holocaust memorial day on 27 January, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

One of the reasons why I first got into politics was that the British National party set up a recruitment meeting in a primary school directly opposite where I lived. The thought that extremism could still catch fire in our civilized society today, just as it did in an earlier civilized German society, was chilling and I resolved there and then to do what I could to make sure that it did not take hold in my community.

I remember visiting Prague during the Soviet era and visiting the Jewish Museum. I was struck by the starkness of the displays. The rooms were small and had just one black and white photograph on each wall. The images were so powerful that the memory has never left me. I have also been to Yad Vashem in Israel, which is a very different museum in terms of scale and impact. The rows of names of those lost in the holocaust are haunting and leave a lasting impression.

24 Jan 2013 : Column 562

The holocaust is a reminder—the most powerful reminder of all—of the need not just to condemn the atrocities of the past, but to do everything we can as MPs, as people who have influence in our communities, to stop prejudice, hate and racism gaining a foothold.

When we think about these appalling crimes—whether they took place during the holocaust or other modern day mass atrocities—we see that the perpetrators of hate had one thing in common: they all sought to dehumanise their victims because of their race, religion and ethnicity. It was their detached hatred that enabled them to carry out unimaginable atrocities, and yet even in those dark times there was a glimmer of hope. There were individuals whose consciences would not allow them to pass by on the other side. They risked their lives to save Jews. Many of them have been honoured by Yad Vashem as “Righteous Among the Nations” for their actions.

In 2010 our own country awarded 25 British men and women the holocaust hero award in recognition of their selfless courage and humanity in saving Jews and other persecuted groups during the second world war. Since those initial awards, further acts of bravery have come to light and we will honour them in the coming months.

The tireless work of the Holocaust Educational Trust—rightly praised yesterday by the Prime Minister—and in particular its chief executive officer, Karen Pollock, have been key in ensuring that holocaust education is at the forefront of our efforts to ensure that we learn the lessons of the past. Holocaust education matters so much, because it helps to restore the names, memories and identities of those who suffered—not just 6 million Jews, but more than 1 million Cambodians, 1 million who died in Rwanda, hundreds of thousands who died in Darfur and thousands killed in Bosnia. Holocaust education helps remind us that behind the statistics were real people who lived, loved and laughed, who might have contributed untold wonders to our world, and who never dreamed that their days would cruelly be cut short.

Holocaust education is also about remembering those acts of courage and compassion that took place even in the midst of evil. It is about remembering that when we build a bridge between communities—fittingly, the theme of this year’s Holocaust memorial day—and when we celebrate what we share, we not only cast out the shadows of hate, but strengthen the bonds of our common humanity.

That is why we continue to support Holocaust memorial day and the work of the CEO of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, Olivia Marks-Woldman, and her staff. It is not just because it is about the act of remembrance, but because it is about getting out into our local areas and working hard to foster better relationships. This year I am pleased to hear that more than 1,500 activities will take place across the country to mark the day. I, like many others, will be wearing my badge and getting involved.

The support of the current and previous Governments for Holocaust memorial day is not all about building tolerance between our diverse communities. We have also committed £500,000 to the Wiener library to house the UK’s copy of the International Tracing Service archive, which holds the records of the fate of millions of civilian victims of Nazi Germany. We have committed £2.1 million to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation, to be used to fund ongoing restoration work. That will ensure the upkeep of the site for future generations.

24 Jan 2013 : Column 563

As we have heard, we will also provide funds for the continuing “Lessons from Auschwitz” project for sixth-formers and their teachers. We will continue to support the work of the UK’s first envoy for post-holocaust issues, and that of the Anne Frank Trust UK to educate young people to challenge prejudice and discrimination and inspire them to become active and responsible members of their community. We are supporting a third-party reporting facility for anti-Muslim hate crime and an initiative providing support for victims of such crime.

That work is of immense importance. The fact is that we can never be complacent, especially as today we continue to see the growth of anti-Semitism on the continent, the continued scourge of anti-Muslim hatred, and racism rearing its ugly head in football. We can never stand aside when we encounter hatred of any kind, because as Primo Levi once said:

“Those who deny Auschwitz would be ready to remake it.”

We must always be ready to remind those who say it could never happen in a civilised place like this that the holocaust happened in the cradle of civilisation. It is our duty to ensure that it never happens again.

4.56 pm

Graham Evans: The debate has shown the House at its best, and on behalf of the hon. Members who supported the motion, I thank each and every Member who has contributed so thoughtfully and compassionately. Some of the speeches drew on personal experience, some on the first-hand accounts that Members have heard and some on recognition of the darkest parts of the human condition.

I have been pleased to listen to the unifying voice of sombre memorial, the celebration of human spirit and the will to survive. I expected no less from hon. Members. I would particularly like to remark on the speech of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). His experience reminded me of the old Jewish saying, “If you save one life, it’s as if you’ve saved the entire world”.

Vigilance is the only way in which we can protect future generations, both here in the United Kingdom and across the world. It is our duty to keep this specific event in our not-so-distant past in our memories. Unless we do so, we create a vacuum in which prejudice and bigotry can flourish, which is not a future to which I wish to condemn my children.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of Holocaust Memorial Day.

24 Jan 2013 : Column 564

Worcester Further Education Colleges

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Swayne.)

4.57 pm

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): It is a real privilege to follow such an important and passionate debate. As a historian and as a parliamentarian, I associate myself with the important points that were made in commemoration of the holocaust.

It is a great pleasure to be able to speak on a subject that is dear to my heart and of enormous importance to my constituents. I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the Minister for staying until the Adjournment to hear it.

In the week when we received job figures showing the lowest number of unemployed people, and young unemployed people, in Worcester since 2008, this matter touches on the skills that young people need to get into work and the opportunities that they have in our colleges. As a county centre for both education and industry, Worcester is fortunate in having a number of excellent educational institutions.

The Minister will be aware of my long-running campaign for fairer funding for our schools. Today, however, I want to focus on our colleges, particularly the two that provide opportunities for thousands of 16 to 18-year-olds in Worcester, the Worcester college of technology and Worcester sixth-form college. Although I appreciate that the debate is focused on further education, and that the college of technology is therefore the prime concern, I hope the House and the Minister will indulge me if I raise issues on behalf of both those important institutions.

There are similarities and differences between the challenges that the two institutions face and the nature of the capital funding that they require, but the illustration of those differences is an important point for the Minister to understand. She will be aware of the deeply lamentable record of the Labour Government on the capital funding of colleges. They presided in this area, as in so many others, over an enormous escalation of hopes and a catastrophic failure to manage and deliver. The sad story of the Learning and Skills Council, and its drive to replace functioning buildings with shiny new ones at enormous expense, is symbolic of much that happened under the previous Administration. Both Worcester colleges were victims of that saga.

Mark Garnier (Wyre Forest) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, and may I add Kidderminster college, where I serve as a governor, to that list of Worcestershire-based colleges? It also had a £40 million promise cruelly yanked away at the last minute after something like £150,000 of important college funds had been invested in feasibility studies.

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Swayne.)

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans): Do you want to finish your remarks, Mr Garnier?

24 Jan 2013 : Column 565

Mark Garnier: I have finished.

Mr Walker: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, which was intervened on, and I congratulate him on raising the case of his local college that was so cruelly treated by the last Labour Government.

Our sixth-form college in Worcester was promised a building programme that could have cost more than £30 million. It underwent substantial work in planning what it was told would be a complete rebuild, enabling it to expand its capacity and provide new and better facilities. It incurred costs of more than £200,000 in putting together a bid that would have been successful if the Learning and Skills Council had shown a greater degree of financial continence than the Government who presided over it.

With the collapse of the LSC, the school received not a penny. Not only were hopes dashed and promises broken, but ongoing repairs that should have been started were postponed and important maintenance work put off in the hope that a shiny new building would render it unnecessary. Problems that had helped to justify the need for a new building were made greater by the failure of the last Government to deliver on their promise. In short, it was a fiasco. Fortunately, the college of technology was not so far down the line with its plans and incurred fewer costs—only around £114,000. It, too, was encouraged to believe that at some point a magic pot of money would offer scope for new buildings and a move from a split to a unified site.

I am not sure whether the Minister has visited Worcester recently, but if she has she will have noticed that functional though they may be and although they occupy a magnificent site alongside our Norman cathedral in front of the River Severn, the buildings of the college of technology are far from being the most beautiful on the city’s skyline. I and many of my constituents hope that one day what the architect himself described as “functional concrete blocks” might give way to more elegant buildings, better suited to the role of inspiring minds. The college, recognising that a small up-front investment in bringing together disparate sites could reduce running costs and generate ongoing savings, hoped to make that happen, but such hopes were to be bitterly disappointed by the last Labour Government.

Some FE colleges elsewhere in the country received funding to replace nearly new buildings, but during the last term of the Labour Government, Worcester college of technology received no capital grants at all. Its principal, Stuart Laverick, described to me how

“the last Government’s inept management of the capital budget for the sector made the FE estates playing field very uneven.”

I regret that in his statement Mr Laverick, who is not known for being shy or retiring in defence of his establishment, may have understated his case. Our college of technology plays a huge role in providing skills for young people and adults, and in making people ready for work, yet it was left neglected by the last Government as their recession saw youth unemployment soar. Unemployment rose from 500 in December 2008 when the Labour Government announced the disaster of the collapse of their Building Colleges for the Future programme to a peak of 800 in August 2009—a peak to which, I am glad to say, it has never returned under the coalition Government.

24 Jan 2013 : Column 566

I do not want to focus only on the past and the sad failings of the previous Government, but on what we can do, and what the Minister and her colleagues in the Departments for Business, Innovation and Skills and for Education have already done to help and the further steps they can take. There was good news for FE colleges in the autumn statement and the subsequent FE capital strategy, and a new £550 million investment programme has been announced for the FE estate. When rolling out that programme, I hope the Minister will ensure that lessons are learned from past mistakes.

There has been good news for many sixth-form colleges through the building condition improvement fund, which was wisely introduced to help some of those so let down by the collapse of the LSC. Investment received by Worcester sixth-form college under the coalition can truly be described as transformational. Faced with a crumbling exterior, leaky windows, wildly fluctuating temperatures, water leaks that were beginning to cause structural damage, and visible faults that were at risk of undermining the excellent academic work taking place, the management of the college did not sit idle. It put together well formulated plans to re-clad the building and invest in new windows and a new look over the space of two years.

The management discovered that, by using the approximately £1 million per year available from the building condition improvement fund and by planning carefully, they could cure many of the defects left by Labour neglect. The targeted investment of a reasonable amount of capital has enormously improved the energy efficiency of the building, and I am delighted that that means investment in a new heating system is now a viable option—in the city famed for its production of the best boilers in Britain.

The principal of the sixth-form college, Michael Kitcatt, wrote to me recently to set out some of the improvements. He wrote:

“As you know, the building was constructed in the early 1960s around a concrete frame and over the years, cracks had developed around the rendering which was enclosed by the frame. This was causing rainwater to penetrate into the ceilings and walls of the rooms. However, under the LSC’s capital programme in the middle of the last decade, we were encouraged to work on plans involving the building of a totally new College and demolition of the existing building. As a consequence, no money was spent on addressing the issues of the College building…The BCIF funding has been really valuable and means that, by the end of August we will have entirely overclad the building and replaced all the original windows. As explained above, the project has been undertaken for essential structural reasons in order to make the building sound and watertight for the foreseeable future. In addition, of course, the insulation installed and the modern double glazed windows have hugely enhanced our environmental efficiency. However, the project has also transformed the outside of the building aesthetically and we have had many positive comments from students, staff, parents and visitors about how good the outside of the building now looks, some even being along the lines of its looking like a new building.”

Of course, the principal would not be doing his job if he did not ask for more, and I would be failing in my job as his MP if I did not pass on his request. He goes on to say:

“In terms of continuing to address the issues of the building.... we are now working on [a project] to modernise the Science facilities and remove the temporary classrooms from the site. If we are to take this forward, however, we would probably need a funding scheme with more flexibility than BCIF has had so far,

24 Jan 2013 : Column 567

for example, the possibility of a two year allocation, giving greater certainty over the funding allocated and removing the need for all spending to take place in a single financial year.”

I can assure the Minister that if she or a colleague could take time to visit the college, they would see the very great need to upgrade its science labs, and the opportunities in doing that and removing the last remaining temporary classrooms on the site to reduce running costs. That would also raise the profile of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects, which the Government are doing so much to encourage.

As a member of the Business, Innovations and Skills Committee, I applaud the Government’s focus on STEM subjects and on encouraging rigour in the A-level system. Our sixth-form college has increasing numbers of students taking these vital courses. The Minister will be interested to note that enrolments in science and maths courses have risen from 1,074 in 2009-10, to 1,179 in 2010-11 and 1,239 in 2011-12. They reached a record 1,346 in 2012-13.

The college points out that the existing facilities are too small to accommodate the growth in demand and too outdated to maximise the benefits of the welcome increase in STEM enrolments with a commensurate increase in the student experience. I urge the Minister to give serious consideration to its next bid for funding and to look at ways in which the BCIF programme could be made more flexible to allow greater investment over a longer period.

The college of technology has not been eligible for the BCIF, which was focused on the sixth-form college estate and not the further education sector. The college has, however, received a total of almost £400,000 in capital funding over almost three years of the coalition Government from the renewable grant and the capital works grant. That is in stark contrast to the complete lack of capital in the period from 2005 to 2010. It has been allocated a further £120,000 for the current academic year under renewal grant phase 3, and has bid for funding from the Skills Funding Agency’s enhanced renewal grant.

Regrettably the college’s last high-quality bid for phase 3 of the initiative, which I wrote to support, was not successful. The principal has pointed out that, in his own words,

“the feedback we received in relation to our recent bid suggests that officials are still not effectively challenging inflated projections and unrealistic growth assumptions. The information provided during the bidding process suggested that a relevant focused narrative rather than some spurious unsubstantiated inflated figures would be given more weighting. At Worcester we therefore focused on how what we were proposing was aligned to the Worcestershire LEP and Worcester City’s development plans and supporting economic growth while meeting quality, employability, apprenticeship and NEET agendas as well as hitting space saving and energy saving targets…We were informed that the narrative was strong but we scored only 1s rather than 3s because the narrative was not backed by data to show the impact on learner numbers and success rate figures.”

He pointed out that the criteria on which they were judged and awarded scores of 0 to 3 were not transparent, and it was not always possible to get feedback on what data would be required or what figures would hit the scoring thresholds. More worryingly, he went on to say:

“Worse was to come when we were told we scored a zero on the Disability Discrimination Act compliance question because the Worcester proposal did not add to this agenda because we were

24 Jan 2013 : Column 568

already fully compliant. So those who rightly committed their own resource to comply with the law get less points than those who have allowed their estate to remain non DDA compliant.”

I am sure that, as a Minister with responsibility for equalities, she will agree with me that it seems ludicrous for the funding criteria to encourage colleges to actually break the law, and that we should support those colleges that have prioritised supporting their most disadvantaged students.

I have written to the Minister with responsibility for FE colleges, the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), with some more detailed feedback from the college of technology. I will not ask the Minister to address each of its points today, but I ask her to take into account the serious concerns it raised about the last round of ERG funding and ensure that future funding is distributed fairly and transparently. The good news is that the Chancellor announced significantly more capital funding for the FE sector in the autumn statement. I know that as we speak the college of technology is working on a new bid. I am also glad that the Government have brought forward the date for resubmissions for round 3 of the ERG, and I hope that if the college submits a revised bid, it can be given a fair hearing. Such a bid would be particularly beneficial in its impact, as the college has now announced its intention to move its remote Barbourne campus into the city centre and thereby consolidate its estate. Not only does that make sound financial sense, but it will benefit the city centre economy by bringing more students into local shops and restaurants, and bring the many vocational students who study there into closer contact with the working world. I recently opened a high street salon owned and operated by the college of technology, which is providing apprenticeships and genuine work experience in a professional setting to young apprentice hairdressers. I have every confidence that its work-focused approach will benefit many of my constituents. The college’s major role in supporting apprenticeships will make a difference to the employment prospects of young people in the county.

I do not ask the Minister to promise the world, as the last Government did. I thank her for the investment that the coalition Government have already made in colleges in Worcester. I ask her to listen to the concerns that I have raised and look kindly on the bids that these two excellent colleges will be putting forward. I ask her to liaise with her fellow Ministers in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Department for Education to ensure that we make a little money go a long way and, after the fiascos of the past, invest in reasonable, high quality, skills-focused projects that will make a real difference. I extend an invitation to her, and any relevant Ministers, to visit these two colleges and to see both the excellent work they have already done and their sensible plans for future investment.

5.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (Jo Swinson): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) on securing the debate, on his powerful advocacy of the value of having high quality further education locally for his constituents and on standing up for his college—as he said, that is his job—as his local college principals make the case for the funding they require.

24 Jan 2013 : Column 569

Today, I am deputising for the Under-Secretary of State for Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), who is currently abroad on official business. I will of course attempt to address the points that have been raised. I have to admit, perhaps to the disappointment of the House, that my hon. Friend’s absence may well deprive us of an interesting discussion on the finer points of cricket, as I understand that both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester are such passionate followers of the game. I will not attempt to stand in my ministerial colleague’s shoes on that particular subject as I fear I would not be particularly eloquent—I apologise to the House for that. Instead, I shall turn to the points that my hon. Friend has raised in his speech.

He extended a kind invitation to me and my colleagues at BIS to visit Worcester. I confess that I do not think I have ever visited Worcester, so I was unable to picture the areas he mentioned in his speech. Who knows, there may well be cause at some point for me to visit. If I do not visit the college—it is not in my portfolio—then perhaps there will be a range of post offices undergoing transformation.

On capital investment, as my hon. Friend knows and outlined, for decades, colleges were starved of the funding for capital renewal that both schools and universities enjoyed. It was therefore no surprise that when the Learning and Skills Council offered significant capital grants, the colleges jumped at the opportunity. Bids were encouraged, including bids to grow, with atriums, spas and other such luxuries. Promises were made without the funding being available to match them. Hugely expensive projects with poor cost controls delivered poor value for money in some of the projects that were completed, so the Learning and Skills Council ran out of money. Suddenly building projects were stopped, sometimes after huge expense on plans and with holes in the ground. It was not a happy time, as my hon. Friend eloquently explained—my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) also managed to contribute his experiences to the debate.

It is in that context, as well as the wider catastrophe of the public finances that we were bequeathed, that we are now rebuilding. We have been working hard to ensure that lessons are learned, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester urged. Inevitably, one of those lessons is that we should have a firm focus on value for money, the physical infrastructure needs of colleges and the benefits that capital investment can bring to students, employers and the communities they serve. The approach is also coupled with a focus on affordability. This provides the background to how we have moved forward, set priorities for capital investment and given hope and a better sense of certainty to both general FE colleges and sixth-form colleges. I hope he will agree that since 2010, this coalition Government have done everything possible to rectify the disaster that the previous Labour Government left us. Indeed, between May 2010 and November 2012, we made more than £330 million available to the Skills Funding Agency for investment in the general FE college estate, with more than £120 million made available through the Education Funding Agency for investment in the sixth-form college estate, making a total of £450 million over that period.

24 Jan 2013 : Column 570

My hon. Friend raised capital funding issues in relation to two important institutions in his constituency: Worcester technology college—the general FE college serving his constituency—which had issues around its recent unsuccessful bid for capital funding; and Worcester sixth-form college, which had issues relating primarily to the Department for Education’s building condition improvement fund. If I may, I propose to respond on the latter first, as I would like to cover the more substantive issues raised in relation to the technology college in some detail.

On the capital funding available to Worcester sixth-form college, my hon. Friend explained that his local college had made great progress already, with improvements to the cladding and structure of the building, and set out what else it was keen to do, with the science and other facilities. He made a good case for a two-year allocation approach, which would provide greater flexibility in build and delivery options. As I have mentioned, capital funding for maintenance in sixth-form colleges is provided annually by the Department for Education through the Education Funding Agency. However, I understand that the Department is currently undertaking a property data survey of the school estate, which is due to be completed later this year. It will inform wider thinking in that Department on the scope and options for longer-term allocation periods from 2014-15 onwards, which I am sure my hon. Friend will welcome. I am also happy to ensure that I draw the comments he has made about this issue on behalf of his sixth-form college to the attention of my colleagues in the Department for Education, as I am sure they will be interested to hear what has been said, both by him and by the principal of Worcester sixth-form college, who I think was Mr Kitcatt—maybe if he is lucky, he will have a break in the next funding round.

Let me return to Worcester technology college and the allocation of capital funds by the Skills Funding Agency. It might be helpful if I explain the broad approach we took to capital investment in general FE colleges. Ministers set the priorities for capital investment. The Skills Funding Agency then consulted the sector on the detailed criteria for deciding allocations and took the sector’s advice on timing and process issues, to minimise burdens while ensuring a focus on value and impact. The agency then launched the various schemes, publishing the agreed criteria for all to see. The agency then offered advice to colleges, assessed bids and, with input from the sector, undertook moderation to ensure fairness. At the end of the process, the agency confirmed funding decisions to colleges.

Clearly, with all competitive bidding processes there are winners and losers. Of course I recognise and understand the concerns—such as those expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester and the principal of Worcester college of technology—about ensuring that those colleges that most urgently need capital funding support can get it. I also understand their concerns about the assessment process carried out by the Skills Funding Agency before grants were awarded, although I would say that the agency’s approach to capital funding has, by and large, served the general FE college sector well. As I have said, it was based, as such processes inevitably often are, on competitive bidding between colleges against a set of published, sector-endorsed criteria, with sector representatives involved in moderating the assessment of bids in order to ensure fair play.

24 Jan 2013 : Column 571

I understand my hon. Friend’s point about the seemingly bizarre scenario in which points would be awarded for not yet having complied with disability discrimination legislation. I would say, however, that whether the situation involved access issues for students, health and safety issues involving asbestos, or issues relating to the basic structure of a building not being windproof or watertight, if there were a needs-based element to the criteria, issues such as those would be taken into account to some extent to ensure that the money was being spent where it was most needed. I understand my hon. Friend’s point, however; he certainly put it very well.

I am given to understand that Worcester technology college’s bid in the last exercise, announced in the autumn, was assessed as primarily falling short of the required standard in its description of the benefits to students’ education and of the area’s prospects for economic growth that would result from funding being awarded. That was obviously a great disappointment to my hon. Friend and to the college and its students, but I can only conclude that that was a reasonable outcome on the basis of the funding criteria then in place. I am sure, however, that my hon. Friend will want to ensure that his college is well placed to make further bids that will have a more positive outcome. He has certainly made a strong case for his college today, and I am sure that he will continue to advocate powerfully for it.

Cases such as that one, and those that other hon. Members have raised with the Minister on previous occasions, serve to underline the fact that we now need a change of approach in the capital funding of general FE colleges, and such a change was set out in the FE college capital investment strategy published on 6 December 2012. Our shared commitment to working with the further education and skills sector to help it to provide the best possible service to adults and young people is clear, as, indeed, is the £550 million of funding for general FE college capital projects that was announced in the skills investment statement, which was also published on 6 December.

Accordingly, we want all general FE colleges to feel able to help to shape the programmes and processes involved, so that we can most effectively manage and

24 Jan 2013 : Column 572

allocate public funds to those capital projects that need them most. My hon. Friend the Minister has already asked the Skills Funding Agency to continue working closely with a sector-led capital reference group to ensure that issues and concerns are known, shared and addressed. He is also keen to ensure that colleges have access to help and advice in developing their plans. I note my hon. Friend’s point about feedback, and it is important that good feedback should be given when bids are unsuccessful, to help plans for future bids to be developed.

On 14 December, the Skills Funding Agency wrote to all 60 colleges that had been unsuccessful in securing funding last time around, to set out the next steps and the options available to them. Today, I want to encourage Worcester college, and all colleges with an interest, to engage constructively with the agency and the capital reference group as we develop and implement our new FE college capital funding programme. It will be a more flexible programme that will include project development support, published time scales and the opportunity for colleges to resubmit applications that fall short of the standards agreed with the sector.

I say to my hon. Friend, and to the college whose interests he has so ably represented today, let us move forward rather than dwelling on the past. I am sure that he is nodding in agreement with that. I understand that, as a first step, Worcester technology college authorities are due to meet representatives of the Skills Funding Agency tomorrow to discuss the options available to them. I sincerely hope and expect that that will be an important first step towards ensuring that the college’s urgent capital funding needs are met before too much longer, and that it succeeds in gaining its fair share of the substantial new investment now on offer from the coalition Government.

Question put and agreed to.

5.25 pm

House adjourned.