Speaking in a debate in the House of Commons on adult education, Sir George criticised the Government for reductions they have made in funding for adult learning.
"This has particularly impacted on adults with learning disabilities, and I am most grateful to Mollie Antrobus at Andover Mencap for helping me with material for my speech."
Text of Sir George's speech is as follows:
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) and I join him in congratulating the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) both on his choice of subject and on the very balanced and measured way in which he presented it. Like the hon. Member for Twickenham, I want to focus on the reduction in resources made available by the LSC, and particularly on courses for those with a learning disability.
The Government have often spoken about lifelong learning and about the needs of people with learning disabilities. Before coming to the debate this morning, I revisited the Labour party's election manifesto, "Britain Forward Not Back" to see whether there was any hint of a cut of 3 per cent. in adult education within a month of polling day. If there was, I am afraid that it escaped me, but I did read:
"Further education is vital to vocational lifelong learning. Achieving a transformation in FE colleges requires both our increased investment and serious reform."
However, as has occurred quite often, and as the hon. Member for Twickenham implied, the rhetoric is slightly ahead of the resources. I wonder whether Ministers realise what is now affordable locally and how that contrasts with their aspirations for that sector. I wonder whether they have really thought through the budget cuts for adult learning and tried to reconcile them with some of their ambitions.
Between 1999 and now the sector has done reasonably well, and I welcome that. However, the tap has now been turned off, as the LSC letter that the hon. Member for Twickenham read out made clear, and the budget reductions have been aggravated by the policy change to which he also referred, which has hit those with learning disabilities particularly hard. The policy change has removed the ability internally to accredit a course designed to meet the specific needs of people with learning disabilities. National funding is no longer available to locally accredited courses, and that double whammy has hit those with learning disabilities particularly hard. I am grateful to Andover and District Mencap for giving me a clear exposition of what is going on.
21 Jun 2005 : Column 195WH
There is a dearth of externally accredited courses for people with learning disabilities for which colleges can claim funding. Does the Minister plan to address that problem and ensure proper external accreditation for the courses that we have discussed?
It simply is not realistic for colleges such as Cricklade to fund such courses with their resources. People with learning disabilities often cannot travel the long distances to Basingstoke, or Salisbury as it would be for my constituents, for accredited courses. The point is well made in paragraph 4.2 of Peter Little's "Strategic Review of LSC provision for Learners with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities (LLDD) across the post-16 sector—Interim Report", in which he says:
"There appears to be little or no incentive for local LSCs to encourage the development of local provision for learners with more complex learning difficulties . . . since a placement at a specialist college is funded from a nationally held budget".
The impact of that is to restrict learner choice and the development of accredited courses at local colleges.
The letter is explicit about resources. There is simply a budget cut of £55 million—backwards, not forwards, to paraphrase the Labour party's manifesto. Last week, The Times Educational Supplement forecast a reduction in post-19 places of 300,000.
The LSC letter expressed the hope that
"provision for Learners with Learning Difficulties and/or Disabilities remains a priority and the LSC's expectation is that the overall proportion of such learners will be maintained."
Sadly, that is not happening, and the cuts are beginning to bite, as we have heard.
I have a letter to one of my constituents from Cricklade college. It states:
"I write to inform you that unfortunately Cricklade College will not be able to run the Summer Scheme during the Summer Holidays. This is due to the funding restrictions imposed on non-accredited courses by the LSC".
I hope that the Minister will put into perspective the Government's policy not only on adult learning, but on adult learning and courses for people with learning disabilities, as they appear to be particularly vulnerable to the changes on which the debate has touched.