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Association of Welsh colleges cautiously welcomes £2m funding

fforwm, the association of colleges in Wales, has welcomed the Welsh Assembly Government’s £2m capital funding for Further Education. However, the it also warns there is a danger the Government’s aims will not be met if too many strings are attached to the funding.

Of the £23m the WAG intends to bring forward this financial year, £2m will be awarded to support small capital works and refurbishment programmes at FE colleges.

Deputy Minister for Skills John Griffiths said: "This funding represents our clear commitment to developing the FE sector here in Wales. Through strong capital investment programmes colleges and schools can create the best possible environment."

John Graystone, the chief executive of fforwm, said: "We haven’t seen the small print yet. This will make all the difference to how effective this funding will be. If the WAG expects colleges to spend the money in three months – between January and March – then there is a real danger that the WAG’s aims, to support the Welsh construction industry and small businesses, might not be met. In order to allow for small businesses to tender for a building or maintenance contract, time must be built in to the procurement process.

"Further, in order to benefit, not hinder, learners, WAG needs to bear in mind that January to March coincides with term time. Undertaking capital works during term time is likely to cause disruption to learners. We would welcome assurances from the WAG that the money will be made available over a longer period of time."

Mr Graystone continued: "We would also welcome assurances that the money should be spent on capital works that are appropriate for individual colleges. fforwm hopes that the WAG will not instruct colleges to spend the money on WAG-determined projects. This will not ensure the most effective use of public money."

According to Sir Adrian Webb’s report, Promise and Performance, in Wales, "there is backlog maintenance for the sector of £92m and it would cost in the region of a further £200m to upgrade the high proportion of accommodation categorised as poor."

The report also states that current funding in the country is "less than 3% of that in England." fforwm, which represents all 25 FE colleges and institutions in Wales, wants £50m to be invested in FE estates in 2009/10.

John Graystone concluded: "fforwm welcomes the £2 million that the WAG has allocated to FE colleges, but if the money is to be spent wisely, the WAG must provide assurances that it does not all have to be spent by the end of the financial year on WAG-determined projects.

"The WAG would also be wise to acknowledge that £2 million, while a useful injection of money, will not on its own bring the FE college estate in Wales up to world class standards, or bring us close to the investment put into FE by the other UK nations."

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