Jeremy Corbyn has urged the Government to “wake up” to the damage of education cuts and to end decades of under-investment which has led to a “productivity crisis” in the UK economy.
The Labour leader said in a keynote speech that the education system is in a perilous state “while the prospect of a bad Brexit deal threatens to exacerbate existing weaknesses in the economy.
At the Association of Colleges annual conference in Birmingham, he urged Chancellor Philip Hammond to use the Budget on November 22 to announce new investment in infrastructure, technology and training.
With the Office for Budget Responsibility expected to downgrade its forecasts for economic growth due to continuing poor productivity, Mr Corbyn said ministers can no longer ignore the scale of the crisis.
“To get a measure of the extent of this crisis, consider the fact that in mid-2017 productivity levels were lower than they were a decade ago, despite huge technological advances in the last 10 years,” he said.
Mr Corbyn continued to say it was a “truly astonishing statistic” which underlined the damaging failure of austerity.
He added: “With increased automation in the workplace, we need to be offering more opportunities than ever for people to take on, what are going to be, highly technical jobs in the future. In the 21st century, the economies that succeed are those that invest in people.”
The Labour leader said the Chancellor needs to re-set Government policy to protect the economy from the possible fall-out from Brexit.
Speaking about a bad Brexit deal, Mr Corbyn said: “It risks making existing weaknesses in our economy – low investment, low productivity and low pay – even worse.
“It should instead give us the impetus to tackle our productivity crisis, which is making our country poorer.
“The answer lies in investment: in infrastructure, new technologies and people. But instead, the Government has cut the schools budget, cut college funding and saddled students with a lifetime of debt.
“The Government really must wake up to the damage these cuts are causing to colleges and the entire education system, the damage it’s doing to students’ learning and the damage it is doing to the morale of staff and students.
“The Budget next week is an opportunity to break with that damaging record – and it must be taken.”
Mr Corbyn said Brexit also risks adding to the problems facing the education system which has become heavily reliant on staff from the EU, with 5,000 teachers from EU countries qualifying to teach in the UK in 2016.
He said: “It’s no exaggeration to say that education in Britain is in a perilous state: funding has been cut year upon year, the attainment gap is widening and the curriculum has narrowed as courses have been cut.
“We are already suffering from a recruitment crisis in the teaching profession, one that will only get worse if the Government fails to secure the rights of European Union nationals currently living in this country.”