College restructuring support update: £300m for 19 ‘significant’ applications approved

College restructuring support update: £300m for 19 ‘significant’ applications approved

The government has approved more than £300 million to cover the cost of implementing post-area review changes, although the skills minister insisted this cash will not be “propping up failing colleges”.

The figure, which amounts to around 40 per cent of the £726 million on offer, was revealed in the latest Education and Skills Funding Agency progress report on the restructuring facility, published today.

According to today’s announcement, 29 colleges have applied for restructuring support, and a further 29 applications have come from 31 sixth form colleges to cover the costs of converting to academy status.

It confirmed what skills minister Anne Milton has said in her latest exclusive column for FE Week, also published today.

“To date we have approved over £300 million of restructuring facility funding and spent over £150 million, supporting 19 significant applications, as well as providing compensatory VAT funding and transition grants for a wider group of colleges,” she wrote.

The minister denied that the cash is being used as a bailout fund.

“This funding is not about propping up failing colleges,” she claimed. “Funding from the restructuring facility is only available after a rigorous assessment to help implement changes which will result in sustainable, effective institutions.”

Successful applicants must have “a clear plan” along with a “realistic schedule for making this happen”.

Today’s announcement doesn’t give any details of which colleges have received the cash nor how much.

The Department for Education is “not yet publishing detailed information” about successful bids while the application window is still open.

“By putting the FE sector on a sustainable footing we are making sure that people can benefit from a wide range of choice and quality education, wherever they live and whatever stage of life they are at,” Ms Milton explained.

“I look forward to sharing with you how the restructuring facility is helping to achieve this later this year.”

FE Week has previously reported on a number of colleges in dire straits that have received multimillion-pound handouts from the fund.

These include Lambeth College, which was expecting a whopping £25 million to pay off its exceptional financial support and bank loans, according to its 2016/17 accounts.

And struggling Telford College of Arts and Technology received £21 million for its merger with New College Telford – a sum that came in the form of a grant, according to its accounts.

The restructuring facility, first announced in March 2016, is part of a package of support for colleges to help them implement recommendations arising from the area reviews, or other structural changes such as a merger brokered by the FE commissioner.

The cash, usually available as a loan, comes from a pot amounting to £726 million.

The deadline for applications was originally six months after a college’s final area review meeting.

But in November last year, two months after the last deadline passed for colleges in the final wave of reviews, this was extended until September 2018 – with the funding available until March 2019.

The Department for Education denied that this meant the fund had failed, even though just 10 colleges had been allocated a combined total of £120 million to date.