Nearly 300 colleges unexpectedly receive £23 million to be spent before August 2012.

Colleges are sharing an additional £23m in Discretionary Learner Support (DLS) funding, which will need to be spent before the end of this academic year.

The Skills Funding Agency (SFA) has revealed that 284 providers, primarily FE colleges, were given the additional funding last month ahead of their profile payment in April.

The extra in-year allocations are the latest in a series of SFA giveaways, which include redundancy packages, the Growth and Innovation Fund and additional funding to target NEETs, reported by FE Week last November.

A spokesperson for the SFA told FE Week: “The additional funds were distributed to those providers who reported in their February mid-year returns that they expected their end of year performance to be 97 per cent or above.”

The SFA say the extra funding has been redistributed from the Learner Support budget, including the Professional & Career Development Loans, Adult Learning Grant and the Residential Support Scheme, to “support providers with potential budget pressures”.

Among the successful recipients are Westminster Kingsway College, which has received around £250,000, South Staffordshire College with £71,000 and City of Bristol College, with more than £300,000.

Andy Wilson, principal of Westminster Kingsway College, said the additional in-year allocation was welcome but also completely unexpected.

“You can understand that there might be a few tens of thousands swimming around but when you talk in those sorts of figures coming completely out of the blue, it’s a big surprise,” said Mr Wilson.

“It’s always welcome to get new money and no-one is ever going to turn it down, but just getting that sort of sum of money, in an unplanned way late in the year, just isn’t doing anybody any favours, wherever it has come from.”

DLS is used by general FE colleges and sixth form colleges to help students aged 19 or above, who are often facing financial hardship, with the cost of learning.

The funding can be spent on a variety of support including travel costs, childcare, course-related equipment and accommodation costs.

We will be able to do more of what we are already doing, so I don’t think it is going to be a big problem for us or anybody else to spend it to be honest.”

Mr Wilson said Westminster Kingsway College would be using the extra money to fund fee remission for a number of courses which learners can enrol on this term.

“It’s very, very flexible in what it can be spent on,” Mr Wilson said.

“There aren’t too many restrictions on it, but if you add up how much you’re going to spend in some travel costs it doesn’t come to very much out of a quarter of a million pounds in a term.

“You can’t get it out the door to spend it on a lot of smaller pots, so in the time that’s been given you’ve just got to spend it on substantial things.”

Graham Morley, principal of South Staffordshire College, says he doesn’t think there will be any significant issues with spending the money.

“What this will enable us to do is increase the in-class support, get more equipment and materials and everything that we would normally do at the back end of the year, which will help learners prepare for exams, all of that sort of stuff,” Mr Morley said.

“We will be able to do more of what we are already doing, so I don’t think it is going to be a big problem for us or anybody else to spend it to be honest.”

The South Staffordshire College principal said he was happy to receive the extra in-year allocation, even though it was unforeseen for by the sector.

“Yes, you can argue we should have had it earlier on, and we should have had the proper allocation, then we could manage the funds properly and that’s absolutely fine, it’s laudable and it’s a good argument,” he said.

“But having said that I guess the SFA could have taken an alternative approach and given the money back to government and made themselves look good. So in a sense I’m glad they’ve given it to us.”

Concerns have also been raised over the amount of SFA underspend being advertised to subcontractors through the social networking site LinkedIn. Click here for more on this.

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