McLeish hits out at 'dramatic' cuts to college budgets
Published by Anne Marie Hughes on Sat 09 Jun 12 @ 22:14
A former First Minister has criticised the Scottish Government over its plan to slash college budgets.
However, he accepted the radical reform of colleges proposed by Education Secretary Michael Russell - including the potential for significant mergers - was necessary.
Last year, Finance Secretary John Swinney announced cuts of £74 million to further education by 2014/15.
Although an extra £15m has been announced since then - along with a promise to retain student numbers - colleges and unions believe the cuts will lead to compulsory redundancies and damage quality of provision.
In his first interview since being appointed chairman of the board of the newly merged City of Glasgow College, Mr McLeish told The Herald: "Even acknowledging the austerity of the situation in the UK, and of the cuts in Scotland in general, these were severe cuts to the budgets of colleges.
"There should be no doubt that, at a time when 100,000 Scots between the ages of 16 and 24 are out of work, when the economy is faltering, when growth has virtually flatlined, there is an awful lot to do in terms of skills development.
"My main concern is that the cuts have been dramatic in the college sector and will hold us back. The fallout could be considerable at a time when we need more investment."
Mr McLeish said part of the reason why the cuts to colleges were unexpectedly severe was because the sector failed to make a strong enough case to the Government through umbrella body Scotland's Colleges.
"The universities have made a much more coherent advocacy of what they require, but Scotland's Colleges is seriously undermined because very rarely can a single voice be put forward," he said. "We need a much more enthusiastic and energetic advocacy of where we are and what we need.
"At a time of austerity, the Government will be looking for those areas they can cut without too much trouble and the task of the college sector is to make sure we have the best possible case before Government and unless and until we do that we are going to fall short."
The former First Minister also believes the Scottish Government rightly identified further education as a sector that was not delivering effectively enough - and that it could deliver more efficiently.
"Throughout the sector there is inefficiency and there is waste and there is too much bureaucracy and not enough attention pushing funds into the frontline, so we can do more with the money we have got," he said.
"Another of these key areas is the relationship between employers and education in relation to skills and the perception the sector is not doing as well as it should."
Mr McLeish went on to back Mr Russell's move to create clusters of regional colleges - with some merging and others forging closer allegiances.
"I fully support the radical proposals that Mike Russell has put forward. They are sound in concept. The creation of some 11 or 12 regional entities makes a lot of sense and gives opportunities of scale, efficiency and collaboration because, in my judgment, there are far too many college bureaucracies in Scotland."