Budget 2015 – inebriation before education


More budget blues from a true blue budget? As George Osborne announces plans for another budget Mick Fletcher reflects on the implications for FE of the first budget 2015 and is not impressed. This article first appeared in FE Week.

Budget 2015 said very little about FE. In another sense however it said a great deal. The choices the Chancellor made, ignoring a mounting crisis in our FE system while frittering millions on pre-election give-aways spoke volumes about his priorities.

For instance the chancellor cut the duty on spirits by 2% at an annual cost of £100 million. That’s about the same sum recently saved through cutting the funding rate for 18 year olds by 17.5%, a cut disproportionately hitting the disadvantaged and low achievers. It’s an odd society that cuts £700 from the education of every 18 year old just to knock 16p off a bottle of whisky.

Its not the only odd choice. The chancellor spent £85m exempting children from Air Passenger Duty. That’s more than twice the cost of abolishing the ’Learning Tax’ whereby 6th form colleges pay VAT that schools and academies don’t. The average SFC will continue to pay £335,000 per year on VAT, cutting the teaching hours of A level students just so families can save £13 on flying a five year old to Malaga.

Researchers recently showed that 16-18 year olds in our schools and colleges are systematically short changed compared to those in almost all other advanced countries; our ‘ full time’ programmes have around half the teaching hours of high performing jurisdictions like Shanghai and Singapore. One reason for this is the abolition of the entitlement which cut the funding for 84 hours ‘enrichment’ per year from full time programmes. Half of that could be reinstated for £250 million but the chancellor used the money instead to stop the rise in fuel duty this autumn; an increase that would hardly be noticed when oil prices are plummeting.

Repairing recent damage to 16-18 education was not the only option the chancellor overlooked. He could have plugged some of the gaps appearing in adult FE where over a million learning opportunities have been lost since 2010. The average cost of a place in adult FE is around £670; so the £85 million spent reducing the price of beer by a penny a pint might instead have provided places for 125,000 adults. So could the money spent subsidising ‘Granny bonds’ for pensioners with cash to spare.
It’s a sad day for skills when investment in booze and foreign holidays is deemed more important than supporting further education.

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