The LSC, the government funding body for Sixth Form Colleges, has written to college principles this week to admit that they have messed up again.
In April this year, they wrote to say that the few successful projects from the mishandled multi-billion pound college rebuilding programme would be selected and announced on June 3rd (today). The main criterion they had hoped to use was a readiness to start building within weeks, assuming that most projects would fail to jump this hurdle. Now the LSC admits that they had seriously underestimated the numbers that would succeed, and will not be able to make a decision this month:
“Many more colleges have put forward a case for their projects to be considered as ‘shovel ready’ than expected, and so unfortunately we are not in a position to ask the Council on 3 June to approve individual projects.”
Most of these project have started to build already or could do so by September, so this is already cutting it a bit fine for instructing the contractors.
So, to further cull projects, the suggestion is now to pressurise colleges to cut corners on their plans:
“The challenge for colleges will therefore be to radically reduce the cost and the scope and sourcing of the funding of their projects. Revisions to the scope of projects could include rethinking or deferring whole projects, or components of projects, in favour of a contribution to costs incurred to date and/or funds for refurbishment. We will only consider funding complete re-builds where they are absolutely necessary, which should be in only a few cases.”
And although not wanting to rush anyone into any rash changes:
“We will expect all colleges on the short list to come back with revised bids and plans by the end of the month …”
The other selection criteria suggested will favour urban regeneration and poor inner-city areas, so there seems little chance for my college’s project to get the nod. It is a complete rebuild in a provincial Sussex town, and although we currently squeeze 1500 students into what was, half a century ago, built as a 600 pupil boys’ high school, I don’t see us getting very far up the list.
The college building programme, a desperately needed 2.7 billion pound project to replace crumbling and cramped buildings country-wide, has actually only got 110 million pounds to spend, according to the Prime Minister when questioned by a Member of Parliament. The whole national programme, then, could just afford to pay for the two Worthing rebuilds when there are 136 projects around the country on hold.
The Learning Support Council (LSC) funding story has descended into farce since I posted about the first problem a few weeks ago.
Many colleges have already spent up to 2 million pounds on the detailed planning provisions and face going bust if the projects cannot go ahead in the autumn as planned.
And then the LSC writes to every college in the country to confirm next year’s budgets, allowing the recruitment to increase student numbers, only to decide later that they meant to say that these were provisional budgets, which will have to be reduced by 100 million pounds. With some colleges losing up to 250 thousand pounds from next year’s accounts, redundancies look likely. Having built up expectations for college buildings that are fit to learn in (my college has 1600 students in what used to be a 600 boy middle-school), and emphasising the need for an expansion of education in a recession, the minister Ed Balls has messed up again. The head of the LSC has resigned, but Balls remains Teflon coated.
The LSC, the government funding body for Sixth Form Colleges, has announced that they will continue to fund just eight of the pending College building project to completion. This leaves 79 Colleges, including my own, that have previously been approved, with a further 65 advanced proposals in limbo, as almost the entire national rebuilding project is put on the back burner. The press release ends with:
We will consult urgently, and as quickly as possible, with the AoC (Association of Colleges) and other key sector organisations on proposals and a strategy for prioritisation for future projects. These proposals and the future management of the programme will also reflect the conclusion of Sir Andrew Foster’s current review.
The government’s response to a funding shortfall, then, is order a second inquiry before the first one is fully over, simply to sort a possible future strategy and, I expect, to keep it all going until everyone forgets what the worry was about.
The Association of Colleges has issued a brief initial response, here, but they are unlikely to be able to influence government delays. Many of the plans involved the colleges raising millions of pounds each from bank loans and selling off land for house-building — both sources that have dried up considerably in the recession.