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Major blow for college plans

PUBLISHED: 10:18 29 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:16 03 July 2010

THE dreams of tens of thousands of East Anglia's young people turned to dust last night as colleges were forced to delay or scale down £500m of building schemes.

THE dreams of tens of thousands of East Anglia's young people turned to dust last night as colleges were forced to delay or scale down £500m of building schemes.

College principals accused the government of “neglecting” the region and ignoring its pockets of deprivation and severe skills shortage as it received nothing in the latest round of handouts.

The region's further education institutions had been encouraged by ministers to work up plans to rebuild their campuses to make them ready to equip young people with 21st century skills.

Earlier this year it was announced the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which oversees the projects, had run out of money to fund billions of pounds of building schemes across England.

Yesterday, the last glimmer of hope died as the LSC announced reduced funding for just 13 scaled-down schemes - none in Norfolk, Suffolk or Cambridgeshire.

It means major projects in King's Lynn, at City College Norwich and in Bircham Newton, North Walsham, Gorleston and Yarmouth will have to get in the queue for cash after the 2011/12 government spending review.

The reality is that the big money is no longer there and principals will have to settle for cheaper schemes on a smaller scale - or find alternative funding sources at a time when money is tight.

The news is a body blow to young people, parents and employers in East Anglia, all of whom were banking on the overhauls to provide the skills required for the region to compete.

Norwich City College has been forced to abandon its £173m total rebuild of its Ipswich Road campus and begin work on smaller-scale plans.

Principal Dick Palmer was furious that promises of funding had come to nothing, adding that while the college would continue to provide students with the best facilities, the latest announcement meant nothing would be completed until at least 2015. He said the college would pursue smaller-scale plans that would probably involve retaining the current buildings and developing another part of the site.

Yarmouth College principal Robin Parkinson said the college had now lost £30m funding for phase two of a £42m redevelopment. “There are no other words to describe it other than as a bit of a disaster. I see no colleges are on the list and that is a major setback for East Anglia,” he added.

Mr Parkinson said it appeared the government had neglected East Anglia because it assumed it was leafy and comfortable and did not have any pockets of deprivation.

At the National Construction College, Bircham Newton, director Andy Walder said the announcement put its £26m plans in “serious doubt”.

Describing it as a blow to the industry and the region, he said: “Without this funding the college cannot continue to provide the training support the construction industry urgently needs.”

The 13 projects were chosen from more than 180 submitted to the LSC as part of the latest round of the further education capital programme.

The LSC said it wanted to “inject funds where they will have the greatest impact for learners, employers and communities, to get building work started quickly and to get the best value for the taxpayer”.

It said the decisions came as a result of recommendations made by Sir Andrew Foster who was drafted in by the government to bring order to the chaos when the LSC first announced it did not have enough money to deliver on its promises.

The LSC said it examined each project according to its: education and skills impact; contribution to local economic and regeneration priorities; dependency on third party funding; current building conditions and value for money.

The LSC said it had a contingency fund to help with development costs already incurred, which run to six or seven figures at the colleges in East Anglia.

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