Peter Aldous calls on the Government to invest in further education colleges with a sustainable, financially secure and long-term funding model so we can provide students with the skills needed for technological changes and realise their full potential.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and the hon. Member for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin) on their leadership and on securing the debate.
Putting the funding of further education on a sustainable, financially secure and long-term footing is vital for those young people who will reap the dividends, for those communities in which colleges are based and for the greater benefit of UK plc. Without that investment, social mobility will decline still further and the productivity gap will widen to a chasm.
In Waveney, East Coast College, which includes Lowestoft Sixth Form College, provides an important bridge from the classroom to university and the workplace. In a coastal town where there has been economic decline, they are the cornerstone on which we can rebuild the economy and give young people the opportunity to realise their full potential.
The case for better funding of further education is strong. It will improve social mobility, particularly in those parts of the country where people have often been left behind. It is a vital stepping stone from the classroom to the workplace.
Will my hon. Friend give way on that point?
I will carry on, if that is okay.
We are on the cusp of technological change and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution, and we are transitioning to a low-carbon economy. FE has a vital role to play in that by providing the skilled workforce that the UK needs to be a global leader. In Lowestoft, the energy skills centre is being built at East Coast College. It will provide students with the skills required for exciting, well-paid jobs in the fast-emerging offshore wind sector.
FE also better prepares students for university. The University of Suffolk has come a long way in a short time. It works closely with FE colleges across the county. A properly funded FE sector is vital if the early success is to continue to be built on.
The T-level initiative is welcome, but to be a success it needs to be properly funded. In towns such as Lowestoft, the college is an important component part of the local community and civic society.
I have got to the end without mentioning the “B” word, but I will do so now. Whatever happens with Brexit, there is no getting away from the fact that the British economy is competing in a global market. Our people are the engine of our success. At present, due to a poorly funded FE sector, we are stuttering along in third gear. It is time to fill the tank—or, should I say, charge the battery—so that we are running in top gear.
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