Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a Budget today that included £2.5 billion in extra spending cuts across Government Departments.
While specific details of the cuts to come have yet to be announced, leaders from across the Further Education sector have given their early take on the plans.
Toni Fazaeli, chief executive of the Institute for Learning (IfL), said: "We are pleased to see the Chancellor's explicit acknowledgement of the vital role apprenticeships play in promoting growth, improving skills and giving individuals real opportunities. IfL will be consulting members about the government's proposed apprenticeship reforms.
"We know that the effectiveness of individual apprenticeships relies to a significant extent on teachers and trainers, as dual professionals, being qualified teachers who stay up to date in their subject or vocational area as well as in teaching and learning methods through continuing professional development (CPD). As the professional body, IfL works to encourage colleges, training providers and employers to work together to support their trainers' CPD and ensure that they have access to industry-standard equipment and training facilities.
"Detailed announcements about departmental spending are yet to be made, and we hope that there will be sufficient funding for further education colleges and training providers to deliver high-quality CPD to support the effective integration of literacy, numeracy and functional skills in apprenticeships and other programmes. These are challenging times, and the Chancellor had little room for manoeuvre, but addressing youth unemployment is a critical issue, and our teachers and trainers must be supported and developed as professionals to play their part in helping young and adult learners acquire the skills that employers need.
"Funding for schools has been protected in this Budget, but we are concerned about funding for those over 16, especially in light of the participation age being raised to 17 this year and 18 in 2015."
Toni Pearce, deputy president of the NUS, said: "The Chancellor has failed to improve the economy, and refused to change course and it is the most vulnerable that are paying the price. An entire generation who had nothing to do with creating the problems he is failing to address are paying the price for his stubbornness.
"Young people are unemployed and underemployed and don't have access to the education and training they need. The government claims to be the champion of those who want to work hard but young people are crying out for opportunities to work and to learn but nothing is being done."
"At a time when private companies are increasingly trying to get their claws into education it's good to see the government hinting it might change course on plans to aid those put profit before education."
Tom Wilson, Director of unionlearn, the TUC's learning and skills organisation, said: "Levels of workplace training were too low before the recession and have deteriorated since. The National Employer Skills Survey shows that nearly half of the workforce received no training at all in 2011 - a significant drop.
"Government investment in FE and skills is also set to fall by 25% over the spending review period. At a time when it is more important than ever that we boost our productive capacity to secure strong future growth, it is of great concern to unionlearn that across the economy skills provision is in decline.
"Following the Richard Review there has been a great focus on apprenticeships as a flagship part of the Government's skills agenda. We welcome the general thrust of the Richard review. But we urge the government to use the "European model" of a social partnership approach between employers, government and unions when taking these recommendations forward.
"We also strongly advise the Government to consider a range of approaches to drive up employer engagement, in particular through procurement requirements.
"The UK Government should also take forward legislation to require contractors to publish training and apprenticeship plans."
Commenting on today's Budget and the accompanying forecast released by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), Mark Beatson, chief economist at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), said: "The economic forecast released today alongside the Budget contains few surprises. The very difficult situation in the eurozone casts a long shadow over the UK because of our close trade relationships with Europe so halving the growth forecast for 2013, to 0.6 per cent, was to be expected. The OBR admits that it was surprised by the 600,000 increase in employment in 2012, given the lack of economic growth. In this respect, the OBR forecast of 100,000 employment growth in 2013 and a further increase of 100,000 in 2014 may prove to be conservative.
"The difficult fiscal situation gave the Chancellor little room for manoeuvre, in terms of measures to stimulate the economy, but the budget did contain a few measures that should encourage employment creation and retention and provide a degree of support and certainty for employers. The proposed reduction of up to £2,000 in employer National Insurance Contributions, to be introduced in 2014 for all employers, will provide a marginal incentive for small businesses to create new jobs and the announcement of growth vouchers to enable small firms to access business advice has the potential to provide them with invaluable help in recruiting, managing and engaging employees in support of business growth."
Julian Gravatt, assistant chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: "The budget statement provides a useful, though worrying, update on the state of the UK economy and public finances.
“Colleges will naturally be concerned about the new 1% spending reductions for the next two years - which apply to unprotected budgets and which come on top of similar reductions announced in December.
"The forthcoming Spending Review will be important, and at AoC we'll be arguing the case that education and skills contribute to growth and help people of all ages into work.
“It's disappointing that colleges still don't have firmer details on traineeships and that we'll have to continue to live with VAT injustices. There have been lots of policy announcements in the last few weeks and there will funding information to absorb in the next few days, so the fact the budget has focused on tax rates is a bit of a relief."
Alice Barnard, chief executive of the Peter Jones Foundation, which runs the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy, said: "The Chancellor today announced a Budget "for those who aspire to get their first job; or start their own business". These words resonated strongly with the Peter Jones Foundation, which works to inspire and enable young people to realise their entrepreneurial dreams.
"Osborne declared today a Budget for an "aspiration nation", and stated that his government had seen more people in work than ever before. On the surface, this is great news, however it comes on the same day that we learnt that record levels of employment have masked a shock rise in youth joblessness.
"This is yet another blow to young people – who are fast becoming the lost generation. As a nation, we really need to do more to support our youngsters. They are the leaders of tomorrow, however they continue to face bleak prospects due to the dire economic climate facing our country. Reducing unemployment is undoubtedly a good thing, but more needs to be done to ensure young people don't slip through the gap.
"What we need is more businesses to create vital jobs for young people. This is something we are tackling head on at the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy, by nurturing and developing the next generation of entrepreneurs. They are the job creators of the future and we need to equip them with the skills and the confidence to go for it in business."