Skills Minister says education cut needed because there’s ‘no money left’

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock told MPs it was “difficult being a minister when there’s no money left” as he defended plans to cut the full-time education funding rate for 18-year-olds.

He was speaking at a Westminster Hall debate this morning on government plans to reduce the funding rate for 18-year-old learners to 17.5 per cent less than that of 16 and 17-year-olds.

However, Mr Hancock came in for tough questioning on the plans, which many claim will hit the most vulnerable learners hardest.

He defended the cut after Shadow Junior Education Minister Rushanara Ali described the way the decision had been made as “reckless and irresponsible”.

“We are faced with a cut across the government to make savings to reach the goals we have to reduce budget deficit,” said Mr Hancock.

“It is difficult being a minister when there’s no money left, but we all know whose fault that is.”

A government impact assessment on the cut shows that FE colleges will be among the worst-hit of all institutions — with an average reduction in funding of 3 per cent.

For land-based colleges it’s 2.5 per cent, for commercial and charitable providers it’s 1.5 per cent, and for sixth form colleges it’s 1.2 per cent.

But for school sixth forms it’s just 0.4 per cent. However, the report does not say how much cash the funding rate cut, due next academic year, is expected to save. The Association of Colleges is among those to have objected to the cut and has estimated that it could save the government £150m.

Nevertheless, Mr Hancock told MPs that the reduction would only take funding for 18-year-olds back to 2012/13 levels, but he admitted the decision to target older learners “wasn’t easy”.

The new rate for 16 and 17-year-olds is expected to be announced in March, but at the current rate of £4,000, 18-year-olds would be funded at £3,300.

See edition 91 of FE Week, or read FE Week reporter Freddie Whittaker’s Twitter feed (@FCDWhittaker), for more coverage of this morning’s debate.