Wednesday briefing: Cuts leave colleges living on bailouts

Wednesday briefing: Cuts leave colleges living on bailouts

As of February this year, the government was ‘intervening’ financially in 115 colleges out of a total of 242.
Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Crisis in sixth forms and further education … mother’s drinking may go on baby’s health file … Wales nuclear power station cancelled


Main image:
As of February this year, the government was ‘intervening’ financially in 115 colleges out of a total of 242.
Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Top story: Hundreds of millions written off

Hello, Warren Murray rattling the letter-flap on the door to Wednesday.

Almost half of further education (FE) and sixth-form colleges in England have required government financial help after years of funding cuts. The National Audit Office (NAO) says the Department for Education (DfE) has spent more than £700m on emergency funding with vast loans written off and more colleges likely to struggle amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Another £250m was paid out to rescue 36 colleges with serious cashflow problems.

According to the NAO report, as of February this year the government was “intervening” financially in 115 colleges out of a total of 242. Government funding cuts over the past decade have hit education for students aged 16 to 19 particularly hard; there has been a real terms cut of 7% in the five years up to 2019. In 2015 government reviews led to 57 college mergers, costing the public purse more than £430m, according to the NAO.

Despite the financial pressures more than four in five colleges were rated good or outstanding by Ofsted in 2019 but the NAO says cuts have led to a narrowing of the curriculum and reduced support for students, factors “likely to have detrimental effects on students and the development of skills”. The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, is expected to release a further education white paper later this year. David Hughes, head of the Association for Colleges, said: “The government and DfE must make the white paper a real turning point for colleges and create a stronger, more resilient and stable education and skills system that works for everyone.”

Postcode hack to get a test – Britain’s Covid testing shortage could last weeks, the health secretary has admitted, as it emerged supplies are being taken from hospitals for use in the community. Amid problems with online appointments, some people going to testing centres have been told to type in a postcode hundreds of miles away to get a QR token which can then be redeemed to get their test locally. Rents should be frozen in London to prevent a wave of evictions caused by Covid-19, the Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, tells the government today. Courts on Monday are due to restart eviction proceedings that were put on hold during the lockdown, and Khan is warning that half a million Londoners could face eviction. More coronavirus developments at our live blog.

Dog kills baby – Two people have been arrested after a dog killed a 12-day-old baby boy in Doncaster. A 35-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman have been arrested on suspicion of gross negligence manslaughter and bailed while inquiries continue. South Yorkshire police were called to an address in Woodlands, Doncaster, around 3.30pm on Sunday. The force said: “Emergency services discovered a 12-day-old baby boy had been bitten by a dog and suffered serious injuries. The child was taken to hospital, but sadly died a short time later.” The dog was taken away, police said.

Midweek catch-up

> Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been shown sitting up in bed as he recovers in Germany after being poisoned in Siberia.

Alexei Navalny with his family at Berlin’s Charite hospital.

Alexei Navalny with his family at Berlin’s Charite hospital. Photograph: Instagram account @navalny/AFP/Getty Images

He wrote that he had progressed to breathing without a ventilator: “I liked it a lot. A surprising process that is under-appreciated by many. I highly recommend.”

> At a car crash of a town hall meeting, Donald Trump has lied that he didn’t play down the pandemic (he is on tape admitting that he did) and said the virus will go away because of “herd mentality” – it was not clear whether he meant herd immunity.

> Smoke from wildfires in the western US has drifted as far east as New York and Washington DC, with residents observing hazy skies. Firefighters have continued to battle fires in Oregon and California that have killed more than 30 people and destroyed entire communities.

> Thomas Cook is being resurrected as an online-only travel business, a year after the 178-year-old company ceased trading and stranded 150,000 holidaymakers abroad.

‘Monitor pregnant women’s drinking’ – An expectant mother’s alcohol consumption could be recorded on her child’s medical records under plans for England being considered by the health authority Nice. The idea is intended to help diagnose and prevent foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). But Clare Murphy from the pregnancy charity BASP said: “Women do not lose their right to medical confidentiality simply because they are pregnant.” Alcohol abuse in pregnancy is a factor in seven out of 10 cases of children being put up for adoption, and Sue Armstrong Brown, chief executive of Adoption UK, said there was a “balance to be struck” between the mother’s rights and the child’s. “We’re obviously in a situation where some things are going to need to change if we’re going to improve.”

Nuclear fizzle – Hitachi is expected today to announce it is permanently scrapping plans for the £16bn Wylfa Newydd nuclear power station on Anglesey off north Wales. Work had already been suspended after Hitachi failed to reach a funding agreement with the UK government. A group of 100 organisations, including unions and businesses, have voiced concern that the cancellation could also endanger plans for a nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk. But Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “A new reactor now supplies electricity at more than double the price of a new offshore windfarm … Britain’s future is renewable.”

Today in Focus podcast: The poisoning of Alexei Navalny

As the Russian opposition figure appears to slowly recover after being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok, western leaders have been quick to demand answers from Russia. Luke Harding says the case has all the hallmarks of a state-sponsored hit.

Today in Focus

The poisoning of Alexei Navalny


Lunchtime read: Cynthia Nixon on the fight for America

The actor who once ran to be governor of New York is political to her bones, passionate about trans rights, Black Lives Matter and the future of the left. She discusses the rise of Trump – and why she’s still optimistic – with Zoe Williams.

Cynthia Nixon shot by Claire Rothstein in New York for Girls, Girls, Girls Magazine, May 2019.

Photograph: Claire Rothstein


Tottenham have opened talks with Real Madrid about a loan return for Gareth Bale as Manchester United also consider a loan for the Wales international as an alternative to Jadon Sancho. Jack Grealish has banished speculation about a transfer and signed a new contract at Aston Villa which he has supported and played for since childhood. In summer transfers news here are all the men’s Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1 and Serie A deals and club-by-club guides.

Vitality has announced a groundbreaking three-year deal to sponsor the Women’s FA Cup. Dave Brailsford has rejected suggestions he gambled with his Tour de France selection by discarding Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome but admitted that the dominance of Primoz Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma team will force the Ineos Grenadiers back to the drawing board. Thomas has shown he is back to his best with second place overall in Italy’s prestigious Tirreno-Adriatico warm-up to the Giro.

Pat Smullen, the nine-times Irish champion jockey and multiple Classic-winning rider has died aged 43. Smullen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2018. And England are set to stick with their winning team for their ODI series decider against Australia at Old Trafford.


Blackpool and Hull have the highest rates of unemployment in the UK as the pandemic visits disproportionate economic damage on already struggling areas. One in 10 working-age adults (9.9%) in Blackpool were claiming unemployment benefits in August, with a similar amount (9.8%) in Hull, closely followed by cities including Birmingham, Bradford and Liverpool. The FTSE100 is seen falling 0.7% at the opening bell this morning while the pound’s Brexit-related woes continue at $1.289 and €1.088.

The papers

“Why are they still failing the test?” demands the Mail, over the “shambles” that has led to Covid-19 testing supplies having to be rationed – and this calls for a Mail campaign, dubbed “Get Britain Tested”. The Metro has “They want to help but … computer says no tests”, depicting staff waiting at an empty swab-and-go drive-through. The Guardian says “Covid-19 testing crisis could take weeks to resolve, admits Hancock”. The i has “Testing crisis: rationing puts parents and teachers at back of queue”.

Guardian front page, Wednesday 16 September 2020

Guardian front page, Wednesday 16 September 2020.

“Rule of six is damaging, Welby tells Johnson” – in the Telegraph, the archbishop wants councils given more funding and responsibility for dealing with the pandemic. The Mirror leads on that horrifying story from Doncaster: “Newborn boy savaged to death by dog”.

The Times goes with “Single drink in pregnancy will be noted on baby’s file”. The Express takes up the cudgel for women whose pension age was increased from 60 to 66: “Vow to fight on for 4m denied pension justice”. And the FT has news from Anglesey: “Hitachi set to ditch nuclear plant plan in blow for UK climate goals”.

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