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LSC funding delay results in jobs fear

Concerns over jobs in education practices have emerged after a £2.3 billion capital programme by the Learning and Skills Council was delayed by three months

Practices specialising in education work have been dealt a severe blow after it emerged that a £2.3 billion capital programme of further education colleges has been delayed by at least three months amid rumours of big cutbacks in the offing.

Just as the government was promising to bring forward spending on education projects, it emerged that a funding decision on 22 further education colleges by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) had been delayed until at least early March.

Project budgets are being reviewed amid rumours of a massive overspend on the £2.3 billion capital programme of 700 schemes by 2010.

Design teams will be asked to go back to the drawing board and find savings of around 8 per cent on their projects.

A source from Atkins, one of 18 practices on three regional LSC frameworks, told the AJ that firms could be forced to reduce their LSC teams.

‘A lot of practices will struggle to keep their teams together,’ said the source, adding that Atkins’ proposals for colleges in Plymouth and Newham, East London, would now be delayed. ‘They cannot keep people sitting around doing nothing.’

Tony Poole, education director at Sheppard Robson, which has three schemes delayed, predicted that some projects may be dropped altogether. ‘There’s no way you can value engineer a problem of this enormity. Without doubt some projects will not happen now.’

The delay will also have a knock-on effect for many other further education projects under consideration. Architects have been told that funding applications, which were taking three months on average, will now take around six months.

Architecture firm Dyer said six of its projects had been delayed, including West Kent College in Tonbridge, Brockenhurst College in the New Forest, and Christ the King College in Lewisham.

At West Kent College, 50 per cent of the concrete frame was erected before the project was stopped as a result of the announcement.

‘It’s going to cost an absolute fortune maintaining the site while we wait for a funding announcement,’ said Dyer director Tim Hampson.

Meanwhile Sheffield-based Bond Bryan, which has a large portfolio of education projects, has admitted the delays have hit them too.

Managing director Jonathan Herbert said: ‘We are awaiting the outcome of the meeting but of course, with many projects on hold, we are facing operational difficulties, so are hoping for a positive resolution.’

LSC chief executive Mark Haysom said £110 million was being brought forward from future budgets to spend on its building programme.

‘There are early signs that the ability of colleges to raise their own funds has been affected by the downturn,’ said Haysom. ‘It is for this reason that the LSC is working closely with colleges to look at the current positions before making further funding decisions.’

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