College chiefs voice fears at budget cuts

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COLLEGE bosses’ fears over Scottish Government funding cuts and reorganisation plans have been revealed as campaigners looked to Finance Secretary John Swinney to find extra cash for the sector in today’s budget.

Notes of a private consultation, released under the Freedom of Information Act, showed principals and college chairs from across Scotland hitting out at “unreasonable expectations” over funding cuts and warning it was “not always possible to do more with less”.

They said there was “no evidence” government plans for colleges to work in regional groupings would be beneficial.

Lothians Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who obtained the official notes of the event, said the comments were in stark contrast to claims from Education Secretary Mike Russell that the further education sector backed his reforms.

The Scottish Government plans to cut college funding by 8.5 per cent next year and reduce the core budget for further education colleges by £74 million over the next three years — from £544.7m this year to £470.7m in 2014-15.

Last week, Mr Russell announced 12 regional groupings for colleges. The Edinburgh and the Lothians region will comprise Jewel & Esk College, Stevenson College and Telford College.

Mr Russell said the position of West Lothian College had not yet been decided.

The notes from the consultation event, held in Dunblane in November, summarise discussions from break-out groups.

Under the heading “Main concerns for boards”, one group commented: “There seems to be no concrete evidence that a regional model will deliver better results.

“This invites the view that the reforms are about saving money alone.”

It added: “Considering cuts to funding, government has unreasonable expectations. Whilst there are efficiencies which can be achieved it’s not always possible to do more with less.

“If cuts persist, less will be done with less.”

Another group’s report said: “Someone felt the government was being disingenuous, if not duplicitous, about the real agenda.

“On the whole, the group felt the sector was undervalued and there is little understanding of the extent to which resources are already stretched.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it had held two formal consultations and a number of meetings on the reform plans.

She said: “This close engagement has demonstrated broad support as well as some issues and concerns.”