Two rounds of college funding unleash £232m in government cash

The government is to release £232.7m of funding to revamp more than 50 colleges who will match-fund with £250m of their own cash.

An extra £330m will be made available for skills capital investment through the Local Growth Fund in 2016-17.

Business Secretary Vince Cable, speaking at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference, said: “Boosting the quality and availability of training is fundamental to building a stronger economy, with skilled jobs spread across all regions of the UK.

“Our commitment to support modern, well-equipped colleges and training centres to train the next generation sits alongside the government’s industrial strategy giving business the confidence to invest in the long-term.

“For Britain to compete, and for everyone to reach their potential, we need the very best training centres, staffed with the very best trainers. This is why I can confirm that a further £330m will also be available for skills capital investment through the Local Growth Fund in 2016-17 in order to support local priorities.

“This investment, along with these 50 or so new college capital projects takes total government capital investment in FE colleges since May 2010 to more than £1.5bn.”

Projects being funded include Dudley College’s new engineering and advanced manufacturing workshops, Leeds City College centre for mechanical engineering and Runshaw College’s industry standard engineering and science facilities.

The investment in college estates forms the third and fourth rounds of the College Capital Investment Fund (CCIF).

Martin Doel, AoC chief executive, said: “This newly-announced capital investment will make a real difference to further education colleges and their students across England. It is noteworthy, as the Minister points out, that colleges have provided £250m of their own funding which will make these new buildings a reality.

“Unfortunately, the future is less certain. Ministers have announced that local enterprise partnerships will be involved in the allocation of the FE capital budget from 2015 forward but there is little detail as to how government will ensure all bids for funding are treated fairly and achieve similar value for money to the allocations announced.

“There’s also an approaching demographic bubble with the numbers of 16 to 18-year-olds predicted to soar in the latter part of this decade. Ministers need to start thinking about this now.”

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock also announced a new programme — to improve broadband infrastructure and provision in colleges.

Colleges will receive new funding — which was not specified — to install second broadband connections with help to make the most effective use of existing provision, including upgrades to bandwidth.

Mr Hancock said: “Colleges that embrace the latest technologies can revolutionise the services they offer to students and business. This new funding to improve broadband infrastructure will provide colleges with greater resilience and improved broadband speed.

“As many as eight out of 10 colleges are relying on a single connection, for both their operational and teaching needs — including cloud-based applications and online business.

“It’s easy to imagine what happens if that connection goes down, that’s why I’m allocating extra funds to allow colleges to install a second broadband connection — giving them greater ability to operate and support their students with the latest technology 24/7.”

It is thought that as many as eight in 10 colleges are relying on a single broadband connection and maybe unaware of the impact this could have if the connection fails.

Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of the 157 Group, said: “The additional investment to support college broadband accessibility is most welcome, as is the reassurance that skills capital funding flowing through local authority partnerships is indeed ring-fenced and guaranteed for an additional year. We will of course be working with partners to establish how this can be used for colleges.”

Peter Roberts, chair of the 157 Group and chief executive of Leeds City College, said: “Last month, the 157 Group published its manifesto for FE and skills. Two key requests focused on policy and funding stability.

“Both the tone and the content of the ministerial speeches indicate that some stability may be coming. This is welcome, as is the clear recognition of the good work being done by most FE colleges.”

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