Backbench Conservative MPs tell fringe event that policy to consolidate further education colleges will hinder recruitment of construction workers

Woman on site

Tory MPs have raised concerns about their own government’s plans to consolidate further education colleges, in part because of the impact it will have on training the next generation of construction workers.

Speaking at a Conservative Party conference fringe event organised by RICS and the CIOB, Simon Hoare MP said that plans to rationalise the current network of FE colleges down to as few as 39 providers were “a nonsense”. He said: “This idea of consolidating colleges may work in urban areas where there are good transport links but in rural areas it’s nonsense. We’ll have to see government policy change there.”

The plan is being pushed through by skills minister Nick Boles, who is also minister for construction. Boles wrote to FE colleges in July outlining a review of existing colleges, which he said would “enable a transition towards fewer, larger, more resilient and efficient providers”, because of a funding crisis in FE education.

In the same session Jo Churchill MP, who represents Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, said she would “fight with tooth and nail” to keep her local FE college and ensure it wasn’t a victim of the review.

Churchill also added that she had concerns the government’s proposed introduction of a levy on large employers to pay for apprenticeships would lead to problems in the construction sector, where employers big and small already pay a levy. She said: “My worry is that some people are going to have to pay double.” She also said that small firms could lose out on grant if they were made exempt from the existing levy. “Small firms lever in a lot of funding for health and safety training via apprenticeships funding and it will be really difficult for them. I will be interested to see where the levy drives forward. If your funding goes, what happens?”

Churchill, who helps to run two family construction firms, said she put the industry’s skills crisis down to the boom-bust economic cycle which created a fragmented industry. “We have a structural problem. When it’s good they [clients] want a relationship with you and when it’s tough they can’t get you down on price quick enough.

“It’s this boom-bust thing. Why would we encourage our children to enter construction when it’s like that.”