Somerset Skills & Learning to make major redundancies after AEB debacle

Somerset Skills & Learning to make major redundancies after AEB debacle

A large community learning provider in Somerset that was hit hard by the adult education budget fiasco is likely to close six centres and make over 50 redundancies in the coming months.

Somerset Skills & Learning, which currently teaches around 10,000 students and employs around 200 staff, was left £1 million short of the funding it needs to stay afloat last month after the ESFA made massive cuts.

The provider, which is ranked ‘good’ by Ofsted, was at first faced with a 97-per-cent cut in September –  a figure which would have meant imminent closure.

However, following a campaign to lobby MPs and ministers, the ESFA U-turned on funding to private providers, and SS&L was given 75 per cent of its required funding on a “transitional” basis.

But Susie Simon-Norris, SS&L’s chief executive, told FE Week that a “radical” restructure was still in the pipeline.

“We have had to make some very tough decisions over the last few weeks in an effort to keep SS&L a going concern,” she said.

“A radical restructure has been proposed and this would sadly mean losing almost a third of our staff and closing six centres to reduce our overheads. We have no choice – the funding cuts have left us in a very difficult position.”

SS&L was forced to put its courses on hold in August after it first received a measly £111,000 allocation despite a “successful” AEB tender – 97 per cent less than the £3.4 million it received in 2016/17.

But on October 2 the provider was told its allocation for 2017/18 had been raised to just over £2.4 million.

It was one of many private providers to receive letters from the ESFA, confirming that extra cash had been found to bring private providers’ AEB funding up to the value of 75 per cent of the amount they had last year.

“We also need to drastically reduce our delivery of community learning courses, a terrible blow for Somerset,” said Ms Simon-Norris. “We still don’t think the government realises that by reducing our funding as they have done, Somerset’s community misses out on vital and unique community education, so we are determined to keep lobbying to have this reinstated. We are the only county in the south-west to have had our community learning budget stripped; this is unfair to Somerset and something we intend to fight for.”

The organisation will continue to deliver apprenticeships, traineeships, maths, English, digital skills and business-related courses across Somerset, but will partner with community-based organisations to deliver learning in the community.

“Although we are proposing to reduce the numbers of centres to reduce overhead costs, we will continue to deliver locally across Somerset by utilising other venues,” she added.

“The saddest and most difficult part however, is having to let loyal, long-standing and hard-working staff members go. Through no fault of the organisation’s, many people will be losing their jobs just before Christmas and I put this firmly at the door of the funding body which has failed to understand the impact of the cuts to our community and the service our staff provide. It is devastating.”

Staff are currently in redundancy consultations and centres are likely to close in the coming months.