Geoffrey Clifton-Brown has today secured a review of funding for Specialist Independent Colleges after discovering that the National Star College would have been ineligible for funding recently announced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
The grant in question is from a £50m Renewal Grant scheme recently announced by the Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning Minister, John Hayes MP. The scheme is intended to help Further Education Colleges that were affected by the moratorium on funding by the Learning and Skills Council during the last Labour Government who had promised grants to further education colleges for redevelopment work and then reneged on their promise, despite many colleges such as the National Star College, beginning work in anticipation of the funding.
At the time of the moratorium, Mr Clifton-Brown lobbied the last Government to reconsider their decision and was able to secure a meeting for the colleges Principal and Vice Principal to meet with Ministers. When the LSC undertook its prioritisation exercise last year, the unique nature of the National Star College was ignored by narrow criteria, which were acknowledged in hindsight by Ministers and Officials at the time as being largely inappropriate and which had failed to take account of the role and importance of the College as a national specialist provider.
However, shortly prior to the election responsibility for Independent Specialist Schools was transferred to the Department for Education, meaning that despite providing further education to its students, as a specialist independent school, the National Star College would not be able to apply for funding from the Renewal Grant Scheme. Through consultation with the National Star College Mr Clifton-Brown had written to John Hayes highlighting this anomaly and was today able to question him in Parliament about what steps the Minister could take to stop the National Star College missing out on funding. In response to the MP’s question, the Minister responded:
“My hon. Friend (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP) has been a champion of National Star College, which does outstanding work for the learners he describes. I share his concerns. He is right about the transfer of responsibility. Nevertheless, because of the overtures and the strong case made by others, and my own commitment to learners with those difficulties, I have today initiated discussions with the Department for Education to see how we can move with coherence to a position where all colleges benefit in the way my hon. Friend describes.”
Speaking today, Mr Clifton Brown said:
“Whilst this is of course no guarantee that the National Star College will be able to get a grant, I am pleased that my actions in raising this issue have promoted a review. The National Star College is so unique that it is easy for it to fall outside narrowly drawn Government criteria, however, unlike the previous administration I am pleased that this Government is actually willing to listen and to act.”
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con): What the eligibility criteria will be for further education colleges for funding from the recently announced renewal and enhanced renewal grant schemes. 
The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Mr John Hayes): The additional investment in further education college infrastructure that we announced on 24 May will be used to support further education institutions to develop the best facilities possible and will be prioritised to support colleges that have yet to benefit significantly from the college building programme. As I announced on 21 June, the Skills Funding Agency has identified institutions that are eligible to apply for the additional funding and has issued guidance to those colleges on how they can apply for funding from both the renewal and enhanced renewal grants.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: I warmly welcome the introduction of the funding, which will help colleges affected by the previous Government's moratorium on Learning and Skills Council funding. However, independent specialist colleges, such as the National Star college in my constituency, which train some of the most affected disabled people in the country, were transferred before the election from my hon. Friend's Department to the Department for Education. Such colleges look set, therefore, to lose out on the opportunity to apply for capital funding for the second time in a row. Is there anything my hon. Friend can do to deal with that unfair situation?
Mr Hayes: My hon. Friend has been a champion of National Star college, which does outstanding work for the learners he describes. I share his concerns. He is right about the transfer of responsibility. Nevertheless, because of the overtures and the strong case made by others, and my own commitment to learners with those difficulties, I have today initiated discussions with the Department for Education to see how we can move with coherence to a position where all colleges benefit in the way my hon. Friend describes.
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