A break in the clouds? Our Chief Executive, Jacquie Mutter comments on the Autumn statement

As the weekend approaches the reality of the announcement in the Chancellor’s budget speech on Wednesday that the adult core skills budget would be protected in cash terms is slowly sinking in.

The pessimistic projections expressed in the past few months in seminars, webinars, conferences and across the media had created a sense of impending doom amongst those we work with in the further education sector as we awaited the announcement of a possible 40% at best ,80% plus at its worst, reduction in the non-apprenticeship adult skills budget. Our fears were not realised. What’s more, the extension of loans to younger adults has been welcomed as creating a level playing field, widening access to education for learners aged 19 to 23 from low income backgrounds who seek to upskill and further develop their careers.

One of the most important outcomes of Wednesday’s reprieve for adults skills is that the courses and qualifications that currently provide learners with the confidence and fundamental skills to progress to higher levels of study are, for the time being, less likely to disappear completely from our FE colleges. The impact on this provision should the projected cuts have been implemented, would have been devastating and the opportunities for those needing additional support at the lower levels to prepare them for progression severely diminished. The effect of cutting this pipeline would have been felt most by those from disadvantaged backgrounds, reducing their chances of making real changes to their life chances and creating greater barriers to social mobility.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that the replacement of student grants with loans will create further debt for the more disadvantaged students in HE including many of our Access to HE learners who have already overcome barriers and hardship to return to education, showing a great commitment to study and determination to achieve their goals.

And the further education sector is not alone in feeling the pain of cuts to their budgets; let’s not forget the devastating impact on many organisations in the voluntary and community sector of  diminishing public funding streams, a not insignificant number of which have been forced to close up shop as a result. Only this week we received notification of two more such organisations closing down as a consequence of losing their funding. There will be perhaps be some relief in the sector that the Big Lottery fund will be safe for the time being and the extra £15m a year of funding for women’s support charities, including one of our own member centres, Safelives, is also to be welcomed as a worthwhile use of what many consider is a rather unfair tax on life’s small essentials.

There is no predicting what may lie ahead – and let’s face it, the remarkable u-turn announced on Wednesday on tax credits is not the first of its kind but for now, whilst not wishing to overdo the weather analogies, we can perhaps allow ourselves to make the most of the break in the clouds.

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