You couldn’t make it up – that’s the devastating verdict from a further education expert on the chaos that has left Somerset Skills and Learning fighting for its life.
Full details of the fiasco that stopped classes across the county are revealed in the latest issue of FE Week – a respected further education newspaper. It makes clear that the Conservative policy of outsourcing council services is behind an “outrageous result for Somerset.”
FE Week reveals:
- The funding for adult education services from Somerset Skills and Learning (SS&L) was cut from £3.4 million to just £111,000 even though SS&L is rated “good” by Ofsted
- SS&L scored 525 out of 600 in its evaluation, but now faces a “catastrophic” reduction in its money
- Other training providers which didn’t even bid for money were given grants of millions of pounds.
- And crucially: If SS&L had stayed part of Somerset County Council its budget would not have been cut at all
Chief executive Susie Simon-Norris said funding had been withdrawn virtually overnight with no warning. She told FE Week: “We were encouraged by the government to leave Somerset County Council (in 2015) to become a community interest company and now it seems we’re being penalised for that decision.”
In a signed article, FE Week’s editor Nick Linford, describes the further education funding system as a farce. He says Somerset has been discriminated against And he says that to add insult to injury, if SS&L had put in no bid for money, it would – incredibly – have received £2.55 million. He concludes: “There are some news stories we really could not make up.”
Labour says SS&L should never have been torn away from the county council. The Conservative county council leader says the announcement “came as a shock to everyone” and that he’s lobbying the government for more money. He should face the fact that Conservative dogma got us into this mess and only a Labour government committed to public services can get us out of it.
Meanwhile, some of the people hit by the cut have been telling their stories. Bridgwater Labour Party vice-chair Linda Hyde said : “I received a brief letter stating that all the courses I had enrolled on were postponed, including the course due to start next week. There was much consternation among my fellow students. If this service is discontinued, the cost to the people of Somerset will be immeasurable.”
Bridget O’Brien from Minehead, said: “It is quite probable there will be almost no provision in Minehead. As a former tutor for IT and maths, I am appalled at the waste of resources but even more at the lack of concern for students, including the vulnerable.”
West Somerset Labour Party secretary, Kathrine See, said: “This is a terrible blow to this community and will have a dramatic effect on the older members, who use this service not only for education but to combat loneliness. I wonder what our MP has to say about this?”
People hit by the cut are now writing to Somerset’s five Conservative MPs. And senior SS&L staff are due to meet an education minister in London on Monday. But with the Tories in charge of the purse-strings, this is one farce that is unlikely to have a happy ending.