Burnham-On-Sea’s MP was among four local MPs who held an emergency meeting this week with the Skills Minister to try and reverse a massive £3.3 million funding cut imposed on community education provider Somerset Skills and Learning.
James Heappey joined three other Conservative MPs – Marcus Fysh, Rebecca Pow and David Warburton – in meeting with Anne Milton to “urgently review” the 97 per cent cut to Somerset Skills & Learning’s adult education budget, which we featured here earlier this week.
In a move that will be watched closely by other training providers facing cuts across the UK, the MPs have been promised a return meeting on Monday which, with other interested parties, will include representatives from the funding agency.
The adult community learning provider, which is rated ‘good’ by Ofsted and has around 200 staff, recently won a new contract during the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s recent tender, but was awarded a mere £111,000 – a tiny proportion of the £3.4 million that it was allocated last year.
Courses have now been put on hold by the provider, including in Burnham-On-Sea, as the organisation faces a catastrophic reduction in provision at ten centres across Somerset.
Ms Milton said that due to the “urgency” of the situation, the MPs will meet her and Department for Education representatives on Monday “to see what steps can be taken to safeguard the needs of local people.”
SS&L was founded 75 years ago and delivers a wide range of education services including training, apprenticeships and learning opportunities to more than 10,000 young people and adults across Somerset.
It has a centre in Burnham-On-Sea’s Princess Street, pictured, plus others in Bridgwater, Wells, Chard, Frome, Ilminster, Minehead, Taunton, Wellington and Yeovil.
Originally funded through Somerset County Council, in 2015 SS&L was required to transition to a CIC (Community Interest Company). Each year the organisation applies for and has previously been awarded procurement funding of around £3.5m but this year the Skills Funding Agency found their application fell short, so only awarded £111,000.
Mr Heappey said: “Increasing the level of skills and education in our county is the foundation on which increased productivity and economic growth will be built. To lose the services of SS&L would be a huge blow to our plans for Somerset’s economy. I’m glad the Minister has engaged so promptly and hope this can be resolved as quickly as possible.”
And David Warburton MP added: “It’s imperative that the government immediately reviews this drastic reduction. My Somerset MP colleagues and I have been in touch directly with Susie Simon-Norris, SS&L’s chief executive and Councillor David Fothergill, leader of Somerset County Council. We have written to the Skills and Funding Agency to express our outrage at this hugely damaging withdrawal of funding, which will have catastrophic consequences for both the people of Somerset and our local economy.”
Marcus Fysh MP said: “The apparent short notice of the funding change is also causing problems for people signed up for courses, so our thanks go to the Minister for such a prompt response.”
Rebecca Pow MP commented: “Somerset Skills and Learning has provided invaluable resources both in terms of trainee apprenticeships and for the community with many organisations relying on the funding granted to deliver a wide range of services. Though often the money awarded may seem small, the impact it has through the work of the organisations involved makes a huge difference to those who benefit from their services. It is vital that we reach a solution to support the services provided by SS&L and my colleagues and I have been making the strongest possible case to the Minister.”
At the meeting on Wednesday, the Somerset MPs described the vital significance of SS&L to Skills Minister Anne Milton MP.
The Minister responded: “Due to the urgency of the situation, Somerset MPs have been able to secure a meeting on Monday with the Department for Education to see what steps can be taken to safeguard the needs of local people.”