Government to 'fast track' £200m of £1.5bn capital budget to refurbish colleges

The government is to make £200 million of its £1.5 billion college capital funding pot available from this September – a year earlier than planned, prime minister Boris Johnson has announced tonight.

The cash for repairs and upgrades to college buildings and estates was promised by chancellor Rishi Sunak in his March budget but the five-year project was supposed to start in 2021.

Johnson has now said that £200 million of the investment will be accessible this year.

It comes alongside a ten-year “rebuilding programme” for schools also announced by the prime minister tonight, which includes £560 million being made available to them this year for refurbishment.

A government spokesperson said this “fast tracked” activity will “further support the government’s wider plans to protect jobs and incomes and drive forward the country’s economic recovery from the [Covid-19] pandemic”.

Johnson said: “As we bounce back from the pandemic, it’s important we lay the foundations for a country where everyone has the opportunity to succeed, with our younger generations front and centre of this mission.  

“This major new investment will make sure our schools and colleges are fit for the future, with better facilities and brand new buildings so that every child gets a world-class education.”

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said this is a “good first step by the government to support colleges to be central players in the country’s recovery”.

“For colleges, they will be desperate to have the resources quickly, so I hope this is delivered through a simple formula which grants the money with minimum bureaucracy.

“That way, colleges can invest in the repairs, adaptations, equipment and crucially the digital infrastructure they need to provide a great learning experience from September.”

The government previously told FE Week that the capital fund will require colleges to match the funding with 21 per cent – so for every £1 invested by the government, “we are expecting an average 21p college contribution”.

Hughes continued: “The overall package of £1.5 billion committed in the March Budget will only be sufficient if colleges are financially healthy enough to secure commercial borrowing to extend the fund, and that is in doubt unless further revenue investment comes very soon.  

“Overall this is a very welcome announcement which will show college leaders that they are viewed by the government as a vital part of the recovery effort. They want to be, and can be with the right investment.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Replacing and upgrading poor condition school and college buildings with modern, energy efficient designs will give our students and teachers the environment they deserve, and support them to maximise their potential.

“As we look forward to this September and all children returning to school, we can be assured that for years to come this country’s education system will drive opportunity and prosperity for all.”

And minister for apprenticeships and skills Gillian Keegan said: “This investment is fantastic news for colleges and means they can kick start work to refurbish their facilities and equipment from as early as this September.

“The FE sector will play a pivotal role in our economic recovery post-Covid-19, ensuring more people can gain the skills they need to get ahead. This is just the start of work to transform the FE sector including making sure students have access to high quality, fit for purpose facilities and are great places to learn.”

She added that the Department for Education will set out further details of how the £200 million college capital funding will be allocated “in due course”.