It’s ironic that a government that has done so much to improve the college estate should find itself with a capital crisis of the epic proportions that we now face.
Seventy nine projects suspended somewhere between the Application in Principle and Application in Detail stage; at least another sixty five well on the way or involved in a feasibility study and almost half the college sector having expended significant funds to develop “ready to go” projects now being told that the money has run out.
It’s fairly easy to see what has gone wrong, if not why and I’m sure Sir Andrew Foster’s review will not find it difficult to place the blame. Everyone in the sector knows that the LSC has messed up big time. What is unfortunate about the review is that it is unlikely to find an easy way forward. Many projects are past the point of no return – Deals have been done, sponsorships achieved, planning difficulties overcome.
It’s little wonder that so many college Principals and Governors are angry at the sudden halt and the almost complete lack of communication as to what will happen next. Their colleges through no fault of their own are also millions of pounds out of pocket.
The general consensus seems to be that whichever way you look at the problem the only way out of this crisis is for the government to find more money.
Fortunately, perhaps, the case for further college investment at the present time is really a no brainer. Completing the refurbishment and replacement of the college estate will enable more individuals of all ages to develop the skills they require to live and work in the modern world, provide a stimulus to the construction industry and have a multiplier effect elsewhere in the local and wider economy.
Ready to go public works projects that create present and future value are surely the ideal vehicle for fiscal stimulus in a world in recession. If billions and billions of pounds can be found to shore up the banking industry, surely closing the funding gap for the college sector can’t be that difficult?
If not all those projects on the books can be funded prioritising between them will be a thankless task. Every college that has gone through the AIP process, for example, will have made their case, submitted pages and pages of analysis and calculated the rate of return on investment to prove value for money. Those at AID will have done deals, obtained planning permission and have contractors lined up to ensure that their proposal can be delivered with 95% cost certainty.
Having gone through such a lengthy and detailed process, whatever criteria the LSC, or whoever else, comes up with to determine which of the stalled projects can go ahead, someone, somewhere is justifiably going to call “Foul!”
The college sector has never been in a more pivotal position in the economy. Providing the skills and support for individuals, communities and employers is essential in seeing us through these difficult times and the range and responsiveness of college provision is just what is needed to help people retain jobs or obtain new ones.
Investing in colleges now is investing in the country’s future as well as its present. There can be no doubt that completing the transformation of the college estate will be money well spent. The government may not have created this problem but they are the only ones that can solve it.
Dr David Collins CBE, President of the Association of Colleges (AoC)