Dear NEMCA Council leaders and Mayoral candidates, 

Ever since we heard that WEA courses would not be grant funded from August 2024, we have done our best to persuade decision-makers to change their minds.  

We are now at a crucial point in time and in this open letter we ask you to take the few remaining opportunities to reconsider that decision.  

We call on you to maintain grant funded support for the WEA for one more year.  

This would avoid disruption to learners in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the region and give you the chance to experience and monitor the life-changing impact of our community learning provision. Like the North of Tyne Combined Authority, NEMCA may instead choose to increase funding, rather than remove it having seen the impact delivered. 

Please listen to your constituents 

In recent weeks, WEA learners have made the case directly by protesting at Town Halls across the region. They have been, where possible, telling Council leaders directly what their courses mean to them. We thank them for their passion and dedication and will continue to fight alongside them to ensure that their valued courses can continue next year. 

Unfortunately, their engagement with decision-makers so far has been mixed. Some Council leaders have declined to meet with us or with learners entirely. Others have met learners but seem unwilling or unable to change a decision made before the authority has a mayor to oversee decisions. The end result is that many WEA learners will lose their courses from August. 

Don’t pretend it's not a cut to life-changing courses 

NEMCA decision-makers – that is the council Leaders and the interim CEO – have all pointed to the same route – that the WEA can compete for contracts in the current round of tenders.  

We have entered into this competitive process. But no-one should be under the impression that any successful outcome will deliver the scale of community learning we have previously delivered or the reach those most in need of confidence, aspiration and community connections.  

Many will be left at sea, without the WEA safety net. 

The facts about the NEMCA procurement process for community learning: 

  • A maximum award from the community learning ‘lot’ would cut WEA community learning funding by nearly a half. 
  • There are over 70 competing education providers for the £16 million pot, and maximum awards are likely to be rare. 
  • The focus of the community learning ‘lot’ is on job outcomes, meaning much of the ‘return to learning’ confidence and aspiration-building courses we provide would not score well. 
  • To stand a chance of being able to continue to deliver in the region, only 40% of the bid we have submitted will be this kind of provision. 
  • Therefore, best-case scenario, NEMCA will have cut funding for these courses by £1 million. 

Understand the impact of your decision 

We know that: 

  • those that need education most will not attend formal learning establishments like colleges where all grant funding has been allocated 
  • they will not be reached outside of their hyper-local communities 
  • they will not feel confident to jump immediately into a work-focussed course 
  • the WEA has built up the trust of communities most in need over a century of working in the region 
  • it will take years to build equivalent trust with new providers 

NEMCA seems comfortable with ‘an element of disruption’. But we know that NEMCA’s decision will leave those communities without help, hope and aspiration and feel we must call it out. 

Questioning the process 

It cannot be right to de-fund a long-established provider which has served learners well in order to adopt a new business model supporting an entirely different cohort of learner. How can it be right to leave those most in need behind? 

It is our understanding that this decision has been taken forward so far by the interim NEMCA officers with the oversight of committees comprised of the region’s council Leaders. Very little of this has been open to scrutiny or challenge from anyone not directly involved and at no point has the WEA been asked to provide input or make a case.  

Indeed, since the decision was confirmed, neither the interim CEO nor many of the Council leaders have agreed to speak with the WEA. 

Take your chance to support learners in need 

We ask you, as Council leaders and Mayoral candidates, to commit to reviewing the grant funding arrangements at the first formal meeting of NEMCA.  

Listen to our experience as a trusted regional partner. Focussing all of your grant funding on colleges will exclude those who need education most. It’s the wrong decision. 

Instead, reinstate the WEA’s grant for one year, so that we can continue to prove what we do for learners that would otherwise be left behind. 

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