The Conservatives and Bournville College, “Nothing to do with us Gov. Blame everyone else”


Next week I will be meeting the Chair and Acting Principal of Bournville College to run through the financial and strategic issues they are facing. We will be discussing what needs to be done to safeguard opportunities for young people in the South Birmingham area and beyond, and to build a secure future for the college itself – a keystone of the redevelopment of the Longbridge area.

I don’t want to pre-empt that meeting. However, both common sense and what is already known suggest that there is neither one single cause of the problems the college is facing nor one single solution.  By the same token it would be utterly shallow for anyone to try to divert attention away from some of the real problems the college is facing for no better reason than self-interest.

That however, seem to be precisely what the Conservatives are now trying to do. Writing on Facebook today, the Tory Parliamentary candidate for Northfield had this to say:

“Any suggestion that it is government funds that has led to these problems is highly inaccurate. Government funding settlements are agreed years in advance and whatever problems the college faces are not linked to this.”

You can’t get clearer than that, can you? Whatever has gone wrong – it’s nothing to do with their gang. Blame someone else.

Really? Consider this:

In 2010 the Government promised to ring-fence the budget for educating 5-16 year olds, which they have done. But no such promise was made for the education and training of young people over 16.

The decisions taken since have hit sixth form, and further education Colleges like Bournville, extremely hard. Overall funding for full time students over 16 has been cut by over 10% under this Government. The national budget for 16 to 18 education this year is £250 million less than the last.

Young people over 16 are suffering disproportionately from the Government’s spending cuts. That is why a spokesperson from the Association of Colleges said only the other day that there “has been no considered rationale for the funding cuts bar the crude need to save cash. These, remember, are students on the way to university or employment and deserve the funding they need.”

New rules introduced by Ministers have meant that on top of these cuts, colleges have taken other unexpected hits in the past few years too.

Look at the impact of the Government’s decision to change the way funding allocations work. Budgets used to be planned or negotiated- but now they are set dependent on how many students a college had the year before. So although the college had a 25% increase of student numbers in 2011 – 2012, costing the college £2 million but they didn’t get the money from the Government until 2012-2013.

Or take the decision to cut funding for over 18 year olds in further education at colleges by over 17%, announced in a rush at the end of last year. That cost colleges like Bournville an average of £600,000, and cost hundreds of students at Bournville who may have previously struggled in previous education the opportunity for a fresh start. I was warning Ministers about the impact of these post-18 funding cuts on students with some of the greatest needs in parliamentary debates this year. 

Funding cuts are real. They hit opportunities for young people and they end up forcing the colleges into strategies which are meant to help them make ends meet, but which also increase risks. Bournville have to answer for how they have responded to those pressures, and how they now plan to move forward. But it is simply unacceptable for the Conservatives to deny their Government’s role in creating this situation in the first place. And it is doubly unacceptable for them to try to con local people into believing that everything is rosy in David Cameron’s Further Education garden.

Being a Member of Parliament, or aspiring to be one, means more than parroting Party lines. Sometimes it means standing up for your local area, even when it is uncomfortable for your Party’s political masters. It is a shame that the Conservatives in Northfield don’t seem to recognise that.

Local people must draw their own conclusions about why that is.



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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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