This week I visited our post-16 college in Twickenham to talk about their finances.
After seven good years, the seven lean years have arrived. The government is already cutting back on spending for further and adult education, universities and science and it is going to get a whole lot worse.
After the redundancies at the National Physical Laboratory there are potentially 100 more at the Tertiary College – teaching and other staff.
The Tertiary College is particularly vulnerable because in the boom years it grew rapidly pulling in pupils from as far as Lambeth and Southwark. The strategy was ‘bums on seats’. Now, other boroughs are producing better local sixth forms and there is less interest in making the journey to Twickenham. Numbers are dropping. Cash is drying up. There isn’t the money to keep staffing at current levels.
Fortunately our council resisted the temptation to splash money on sixth forms in local secondary school since duplication is a luxury when money is scarce. In future all public bodies need to be lean and tightly managed. The Adult College is a good example: with a popular, good, service on a very strict budget.
I was however shocked to discover that the government quango which overseas further education – the Learning and Skills Council – has protected its own employment while forcing job cuts onto colleges.
Getting the public finances in order will be a bloody process. There will be job losses. The local council is already having to lay off staff to keep costs and taxes down. The NHS won’t be far behind.
Everything possible must be done to cut bureaucracy and support frontline services, and help – through training – those who are victims of the financial crisis.