Pressure mounts for Labour 16 to 19 ringfence policy

The pressure is mounting on Labour to reveal whether it would introduce an FE and skills funding ringfence after the Conservatives made their positions clear to widespread sector criticism.

Ed Miliband’s party is yet to say if it would extend the existing ringfence for schools funding to include the 16 to 19 budget having seen Prime Minister David Cameron refuse to do so.

Mr Cameron said on Monday (February 2) that the ringfence in place from 2010 would continue for five to 16-year-olds if his party remained in office after May’s general election.

Association of Colleges chief executive Martin Doel, who described the decision not to include the older teenage budget within the ringfence as “desperately disappointing,” was among Mr Cameron’s subsequent critics.

However, Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt said he would “prioritise schools”, but would not comment on FE funding.

It comes after the Lib Dems last year pledged to protect education funding “from cradle to college”, but it remains unclear whether FE funding within the ringfence could be used on early years or schools.

And just two days later Labour suffered a House of Commons setback when its plans to scrap apprenticeships of less than two years’ duration and below level three lost an Opposition Day vote 294 to 218.

The motion was criticised by government ministers and MPs who accused the opposition front bench of “dismissing” level two apprenticeships.

But Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna said: “It is not to devalue them, it is frankly to bring them up to the same benchmarks as our competitors who are more productive than us.”

He said his proposals were not about doing away with lower level apprenticeships, but re-branding them. He also said he would give local councils more power over apprenticeships, including over enforcement of the minimum wage.

Responding on the minimum standards issue, Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “I think there is an important point about levels. I think the honourable gentleman dismissed too easily the value of level two apprenticeships.

“He seemed to imply that these were not quite apprenticeships, but actually there is quite a lot of statistical evidence that people who do a level two apprenticeship and no more have significantly higher earnings than people who don’t go through that channel.”

Mr Cable used the debate to defend the government’s record, and said he had acted to protect FE spending as much as possible in the early days of the Coalition.