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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Government misleads on Further Education

One of the big issues I am dealing with in my region currently is the impact of spending cuts on three of the four FE colleges in my region. In Bridgend the College is facing a £1 million shortfall and has been forced to axe all its A-Level courses from September, to cut back on part time courses and it will be losing approximately 16 lecturing staff.

I was bemused to see the Assembly's Business Minister on the front page of the Glamorgan Gazette last week vowing to support A-level students in his Bridgend constituency when it is the decisions of his Government that has led to this situation in the first place.

Both Swansea and Gorseinon Colleges face cutting about three quarters of a million pounds off their budgets as a result of this failure of the Labour-Plaid Cymru Government to put sufficient funding into Further Education. An extra £9 million was found after protests from opposition AMs, lecturers and students but this was not distributed according to the normal formula allocation and as a result all three Colleges remained underfunded, forcing them to make cuts. In Swansea this has led to the proposed closure of Adult Learning Centre Canolfan y Bont in Pontarddulais and Special Needs provision at Stadium House in Landore, redundancies and the closure of adult education and other courses.

When challenged on these funding issues in the Assembly, Finance Minister, Andrew Davies argued that the two Swansea colleges had not received all the funds they need because their performance was not good enough. On Swansea Sound on 10th May he repeated that argument, claiming that the Colleges had not met the targets set for them by the Government. Yet the answer to a written question tabled by me has revealed that this is not the case.

In her response the Education Minister Jane Hutt says that ‘in terms of 2006/07 and 2007/08 the targets have been met by both colleges. The 2008/09 targets are still being monitored.’ She goes on to point out that both Swansea and Gorseinon have received excellent Estyn reports and that they have exceeded all quality targets set by the Government for the Further Education sector.

In a time of recession Labour and Plaid Cymru are cutting back on education and training and all we get from Ministers are excuses and misleading answers to legitimate questions in the hope of avoiding the blame. I am appalled that the Assembly Member for Swansea West has disparaged the very good and high quality work delivered by Swansea and Gorseinon Colleges in this way.

At the end of the day the reason why cuts are being made in our local Further Education Colleges are down to decisions taken by him and his Ministerial colleagues. To even suggest that it is the fault of the colleges for not meeting targets is insulting and very wrong. Ministers must take responsibility for their own decisions but above all they must ensure that good work is rewarded and on that basis they need to find more money so as to reverse these cuts.
I like the way that the First Minister, at WAG questions this afternoon, appeared to shift the blame for the poor settlements on to the imposition of equal pay.
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