College places under threat despite new funding plan, says campaigner

People with learning difficulties could lose out on education courses despite government plans to share the costs of supporting them in specialist colleges, a campaigner has warned.

David Congdon, Mencap’s head of campaigns and policy, said a new set of government plans, on the respective contributions of local learning and skills councils, local authorities and the NHS, would fail without funding to back it up.

The plans were outlined in a strategy this week for people with learning difficulties from the Learning and Skills Council (LSC), which is responsible for funding and commissioning further education. The plans are being devised by the Department for Education and Skills, the Department of Health and other

departments and will be in place by 2007. They are designed to provide a framework to share the financial burden.

Last year, the LSC said it was forced to spend millions on the health and care costs of people with learning difficulties in specialist colleges. It added that this should be the responsibility of councils and the NHS and warned it may withdraw
the funding

But Congdon said: “If you have a situation where the LSC may remove some funding, could anyone with any confidence say that local authorities in the current financial climate have the money to fill the gap? The danger is a situation where the people in the middle [the people with learning difficulties] fall out.”

Congdon added the NHS and local authorities needed to be given additional funding to compensate for any money withdrawn by the LSC if they were given responsibility for provision.

The plans come with further education colleges cutting educational courses for adults with learning difficulties due to a change in government funding priorities.

● Learning for Living and Work from

The funding dispute
Money was contributed by other agencies in only 229 cases out of 3,181 learners funded by the LSC at specialist colleges for people with learning difficulties in 2003-4, according to an LSC review published last year. Agencies gave about £3.2m compared to the LSC’s overall spend of £126m.

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