Efficiency savings demanded of the college sector need to be relaxed from 5 per cent a year to a maximum of 2 per cent to prevent serious damage to further education, the Department for Education and Employment was told this week.
In their submission to the 1996 Public Expenditure Survey, representatives from colleges reported that cuts coupled with the loss of more than Pounds 200 million in capital allocations had strained finances so much that almost two-thirds of colleges faced an operating deficit in the second half of 1994/95.
John Brennan, director of policy development at the Association for Colleges which made the submission, said financial difficulties were worsening as a result of fierce cuts.
"Government should recognise that efficiency improvements at the level assumed in the Government's Expenditure Plans 1996/97 to 1998/99 are not achievable without major damage to the fabric of further education provision," warns the submission, Funding Further Education into the 21st Century. "Government should bring its plans into line with the capacity of colleges to deliver improvements while maintaining quality - a reduction in real unit costs of at most 1 to 2 per cent per annum."
Growth of 3 per cent per annum in 1999/2000 and beyond must be provided for, according to the report, at a cost of Pounds 100 million per year. A further Pounds 60 million per year was needed for essential repairs and maintenance, and pump-priming funds for the development of Private Finance Initiative bids would cost Pounds 10 million a year.
Capital funding for equipment should be restored to at least Pounds 60 million a year and Pounds 17 million a year was needed for learning technology plus Pounds 20 million for access funds.
Mr Brennan admitted that the sums would be difficult to achieve given declining resources announced by the Government last November. "In retrospect we did not scream hard enough last year," he said.
However, if national education and training targets were to be met an annual rise of 3.1 per cent in the number of young people achieving level 3 qualifications over the next few years was required. In addition 745,000 adults in the workforce needed qualifications at the same level each year and much of the pressure to meet those levels would rest with further education.