Phillipson: Labour can’t commit to increasing FE funding rates

Shadow education secretary says the economic situation needs to become clearer

Shadow education secretary says the economic situation needs to become clearer

15 Nov 2022, 17:41

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Labour cannot commit to boosting FE funding levels in a future government until it has seen the “scale of the damage” to the economy, the party’s shadow education secretary has said.

Bridget Phillipson warned that “some very difficult choices” lie ahead, saying she would only make funding commitments she could deliver.

An uplift in FE funding had been a pillar of the party’s last general election manifesto in 2019 when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

Phillipson told delegates at the Association of Colleges conference in Birmingham today that “colleges are central to the ambition Labour has in education”, and stressed that she recognised that college leaders were worried about cash, staff, energy prises and uncertainty of government support. But she did not make any funding pledges during her speech.

Speaking to FE Week following her address, the MP for Houghton and Sunderland South said the economic landscape had changed significantly and could not pledge any uplift in cash for further education or address the disparity between FE and higher education funding until the economic outlook was clearer.

“Because the Conservatives have crashed the economy we don’t know the scale of the damage we will inherit,” she said.

“Until Thursday we still don’t have even the OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility] report as to exactly the shape of the public finances, it makes it very difficult to arrive at the definitive conclusions until we have really got that picture in front of us.

“But the reality is we will face a very tough situation, that next Labour government, and that will force us to make some very difficult choices.”

Despite the bleak picture, Phillipson said that investing in skills would be a part of the party’s economic growth plan.

Institute for Fiscal Studies data shows government spending on adult education will 25 per cent lower by 2024-25 than in 2010-11.

And for 16-to-18-year-olds, per student spending in further education and sixth form colleges is set to be 10 per cent lower by 2023-24 than when the Conservatives entered government.

Phillipson referenced her own local college in Sunderland and its work with local schools, businesses and the university.

“That is the kind of model that is so effective and has such a brilliant impact in delivering change,” she said.

“Thinking about the different parts of our system in isolation isn’t the approach we would take, and I think sometimes the government seeks to pit one part of the sector against the other, when actually we will be more successful if we work as one with a wider understanding about the importance of education.”

She also used her AoC speech to reiterate her party’s commitments to widening the apprenticeship levy, increasing devolution and launching a new national taskforce called Skills England.

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