HC Deb 27 March 1996 vol 274 cc1021-3
8. Mr. Worthington

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the financial position of further education colleges in Scotland. [21326]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

The financial position of the Scottish further education colleges is satisfactory, with total net assets of £390 million.

Mr. Worthington

It is utter nonsense to say that the financial capacity of FE colleges is satisfactory when 15 colleges, including that at Clydebank, face cuts of more than 4 per cent. this year, which will lead to job cuts. Given that all parties agree that skills shortages and the lack of skills in the work force are key factors that inhibit the success of the country, why are the Government cutting funding to FE colleges in Scotland?

Mr. Robertson

The hon. Gentleman does the college in his constituency and the further education sector in Scotland a disservice. He should take time out to see the sterling work that is being done by FE colleges throughout Scotland since incorporation. The number of students and courses is at a record level. There are more qualifications. More money is going into the sector and outputs are second to none. In many ways, FE colleges in Scotland are leading not just the United Kingdom, but the world. The hon. Gentleman should go to his local college in Clydebank and see at first hand what is happening.

Mr. Ian Bruce

Surely my hon. Friend agrees that, since the Government came to power, the number of people going into further education colleges in Scotland has more than doubled and that the excellent work in those colleges is reflected in the success of Scottish industries. Will he assure the House that he will keep a close eye on the number of people wanting to go to college as first-time entrants and ensure that excellent retraining courses are available to people further on in their careers?

Mr. Robertson

I take on board all my hon. Friend's points. More money, more students, more courses—that is what is happening in further education throughout Scotland. It does little credit to Opposition Members that it takes an English Member to praise Scottish further education.

Mr. Michael J. Martin

May I praise North Glasgow college, which is in my constituency and has campuses in Springburn and in Barmulloch? It draws students from all over the Glasgow region and from Lanarkshire. If that college were not there, many young boys and girls would be unemployed and on the dole. At least gaining the college's qualifications gives them an opportunity to have a more secure future. I urge the Minister to increase expenditure on all such colleges because they are excellent places of learning.

Mr. Robertson

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's warm words for what is happening at the college in his constituency. The same thing is happening throughout Scotland. We are putting more money than ever before into further education, and that has been shown by the results.

Mr. Maclennan

I do not take issue with the Minister's general points, but will he consider with particular care the financial predicament of the colleges in Thurso and Inverness? Due to a new formula, central Government assistance for those colleges has been slashed. My hon. Friend the Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) and I have received strong representations from the principals about that.

Mr. Robertson

Formula funding is the fairest way in which to fund further education colleges. Last summer, when I visited many colleges throughout Scotland, I was struck by the number of principals who supported the formula funding policy. We have adopted a measured, phased approach of 100 per cent. formula funding, with a safety net to ensure that no college receives a grant of 5 per cent. less than the previous year. I am more than happy to discuss the matter with the hon. Gentleman and those principals if he wishes to bring them here.

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