Fair funding campaign for sixth form colleges

Our sixth form colleges deserve better, according to the Liberal Democrats.

The call for a fair funding formula to prevent them losing out to school sixth forms has been echoing across the green benches.

Only last week Sir Bob Russell, the voice of Colchester, called the system that gives higher funding for each student attending school sixth forms "unfair".

Now Dr Julian Huppert, MP for Cambridge, has laid out his case to support the colleges.

"It is completely unfair that even though these colleges are funded in the same way as sixth forms attached to schools and are teaching the same age children, they are treated differently under the VAT rules," he told Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

The regulations leave Cambridge's Hills Road, which has consistently ranked among the top three state sixth form colleges in the country, along with Long Road Sixth Form Colleges and Cambridge Regional College, paying hundreds of thousands of pounds in VAT.

Dr Huppert's putting pressure on the government to end the unfair rule which means that colleges have to pay VAT on goods and services even though sixth forms attached to schools are exempt.

"This leaves them hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket on VAT charges; money which could be spent to the benefit of their pupils," he complained.

It's an argument familiar to Sir Bob Russell, who has already told the Commons that Colchester Sixth Form College was the most successful in the country but that the funding given for each student was less than that given to students who attended school sixth forms.

Dr Huppert asked the Mr Alexander about the VAT paid by sixth form colleges and further education colleges in 2012.

Mr Alexander told him change was coming.

"When we took office we found a situation in which sixth form colleges were considerably less well funded for that group of pupils than schools.

"We are taking steps, year by year, to equalise the funding arrangements, and we will look again at that in the spending round in the first half of this year."

But that hasn't satisfied our Lib Dems who have pledged to continue their campaign until there's a fairer deal for sixth forms and further education colleges.

"I cannot see any justification for this double standard and I will continue to fight this issue until the Treasury changes this unfair policy," Dr Huppert said.