AN adult education provider has claimed that its operations in the North East are under threat after missing out on funding under the region’s new devolution deal.

The Workers’ Educational Association (WEA) has alleged that it faces a £1.3m cash shortfall that puts more than 70 jobs at risk.

The voluntary organisation currently receives funding from the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) to provide a variety of adult education courses, with that agreement due to cease at the end of July.

But with the NTCA soon to be wound up and replaced by the larger North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA) in May, following the agreement of a multi-billion pound devolution deal that brings in four council areas south of the Tyne, the WEA will not be given an equivalent grant.

Its chief executive, Simon Parkinson, claimed the move was “unnecessary” and said he would be exploring a legal challenge.

Incoming NEMCA bosses said that it would be giving adult education grant funding to local colleges and councils, rather than national providers, but that the WEA would still be eligible to bid for other contracts.

In a statement released on Wednesday (January 31), the charity said it had been left “devastated and shocked” and that the NEMCA skills contracts it expects to be able to bid for would be “unsuitable”.

It claimed that the absence of grant funding would put 72 North East jobs under threat and affect more than 1,600 learners who access WEA courses – which include IT, maths, and language lessons.

Mr Parkinson said: “The WEA has been a trusted partner in the region for over a hundred years, working collaboratively to address the learning needs of thousands of adults across the region.

"Our history in the area is long and successful due to the fact we are truly community-based. Our learners can access provision in the communities they know and trust, which is less daunting and also fits around their other commitments.  

“The lack of clarity behind the sudden decision is concerning and comes at a challenging time when the demand for our services is both high and more critical than ever. Our learners are the most under-served in society and it is disappointing to see them being let down again. We will however continue to fight for them because accessible education should be available to everyone.”

The WEA was founded in 1903 and is the largest voluntary sector provider of adult education in England and Scotland.

A spokesperson for NEMCA said: “The North East Mayoral Combined Authority is a new combined authority that will make use of its Adult Education Budget (AEB) allocation to achieve its outcomes and improve local skills; helping residents to improve their quality of life and ensuring that employers have residents with the skills their businesses need to grow and thrive. 

“It is establishing new providers to deliver AEB through open and competitive procurement processes. The vast majority of providers, such as national providers, will secure contracts in this way following our well-publicised processes. This year successful providers will be in place from August 2024.

“In addition to this our local FE colleges and local authorities will receive grant funding for AEB activity because of the significant volume of provision they deliver to local residents, including statutory provision and community learning.”