Mayor of London blames DfE for having to top-slice AEB

The Greater London Authority is locked in a war of words with the government over Sadiq Khan’s plan to top-slice £3 million from the adult education budget to cover the costs of devolution.

The Department for Education insisted it had awarded the GLA “sufficient funds to prepare”, having provided £235,139 in “implementation funding” between September 2017 and the end of March – more than any other local authority.

But there will be no further cash to cover ongoing administrative costs after the London authority and seven other mayoral combined authorities take over responsibility from next year.

However, there’s no legal restriction on how much a combined authority will be able to take from the AEB funding pot to use instead.

FE Week exclusively revealed last week that the GLA will top-slice slightly under one per cent of the capital’s annual AEB budget to cover the wages of around 50 administrators.

The London mayor’s plan brought an angry reaction from a few London college principals, stinging his deputy for planning, regeneration and skills into writing an expert piece for this week’s paper.

His deputy Jules Pipe said on his behalf that the move had been forced on the GLA.

“It is no use simply giving the mayor notional control over these funds,” he wrote.

“He also needs the resource to allow him to spend the funds swiftly and effectively to meet the needs of Londoners and London’s economy.

“So far, the mayor’s request to government for an ongoing and sensible budget to administer this funding has been denied.”

He claimed that the “implementation funding” was “significantly less than the cost of implementing devolution”.

Costs include procurement, audit, contract management, direct access to data, and changes to the individualised learner record systems “to incorporate local funding requirements”.

“Should the government continue to refuse to devolve the associated administrative costs of delivering the AEB to London, the mayor will be forced to fund devolution using a combination of his own budgets and a small part of the AEB itself,” he added.

The DfE would not comment on the claim that it is effectively using AEB devolution to pass on administrative costs.

“The devolution of the AEB is giving local areas more control over the services that they offer their communities,” a spokesperson said. “We are giving the GLA sufficient funds to prepare and we will continue to work with them on this.

“Once the AEB has been devolved, it will be for the mayoral authority to determine how it spends the funding to help learners.”

The GLA’s 53-strong team will form a skills and employment unit to dish out the capital’s AEB budget from 2019/20, which will amount to around £311 million per year.

However, some of the tasks this unit will carry out will simply duplicate the work that the Education and Skills Funding Agency already does.

The DfE insisted it is providing each of the eight mayoral combined authorities with “significant” implementation funds prior to them actually taking on the budget.

Each area submitted a business case for implementation funding, and they were analysed by DfE under the “same methodology”. Any costs that were deemed to not be appropriate “were removed”.

The principal of the capital’s third largest college group, London South East Colleges, has criticised the move.

“Shocking and hugely disappointing that this has been allowed to happen and divert £3 million from this underfunded sector to pay for administrative officers,” said Sam Parrett.

“It was always a concern, and is no surprise, that devolution will require an extra layer of bureaucracy and administration,” added Andy Wilson, principal of Capital City College Group.