Somerset’s politicians can’t sneak anything past Mick Fletcher when it comes to further and adult education…
Tucked away at chapter 12, in a document only of interest to specialists in further education, is evidence of another quiet failure of Tory dogma. In a routine administrative update from the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) two short paragraphs announce “Community Learning in Somerset …..is out of step with the rest of England”, and from September 2023 the Department for Education (DfE) intends to bring it in line. It sounds like administrative housekeeping. It is actually a little more significant.
The reason that the funding of adult learning in Somerset is “out of line” is a direct consequence of a bad decision made by Somerset Conservatives in 2015. While others were cutting back on adult education, they, in effect, abandoned responsibility for theirs altogether. Rather than accept grant support from the Department for Education to deliver education and training for adults, they privatised their main provider, Somerset Skills and Learning (SSL), and walked away. When, two years later, this led to a 97 per cent cut in course provision they panicked, and local MPs had to lobby for an ad hoc rescue operation. We wrote about it here.
As policy failures go this is pretty small beer for this administration. It can’t compare with the disaster inflicted on public and private finances by the Truss/Kwarteng budget. It is nothing compared with the slow disintegration of the social care sector or the ill-fated attempt to privatise probation. It is important to realise, however, that it springs from the same source. The fanatics who now control the Conservative Party believe in minimising the size of the public realm. The near collapse of adult learning in Somerset resulted from the view that local government should only deliver the statutory minimum level of service. This is where that view leads.
There is some good news here. The fact that a Conservative government had to rescue the council from the consequences of a Conservative policy shows that people do care about public services and, when they make their concerns felt, they can defend them. It is also good news that adult learning in Somerset is a little more secure, though the service nationally is in a shamefully degraded state.
The bad news, however, is that there is no sign that the ideologues have learned from this and other failures. Their belief in the virtues of a small state seems immune to all evidence that it does not work. It is important, therefore, that the consequences of this dogma are highlighted, not given a quiet burial to save face.
You can read more pieces by Mick Fletcher here.