FOUR Somerset MPs joined forces in an emergency meeting to push for an urgent review of a drastic £3.5m funding cut to Somerset Skills and Learning.

Taunton Deane MP Rebecca Pow joined forces with James Heappey (Wells), Marcus Fysh (Yeovil) and David Warburton (Somerton and Frome) to lobby with Skills Minister Anne Milton to review the situation.

SS&L was founded 75 years ago and delivers a wide range of education services including training, apprenticeships and learning opportunities to more than 10,000 young people and adults across Somerset.

The social enterprise offers its learning and educational opportunities via eleven centres across the county including Bridgwater, Wells, Burnham on Sea, Chard, Frome, Ilminster, Minehead, Taunton, Wellington and Yeovil.

Originally funded through Somerset County Council, in 2015 SS&L was required to transition to a CIC (Community Interest Company). Each year the organisation applies for and has previously been awarded procurement funding of around £3.5m but this year the Skills Funding Agency found their application fell short, so only awarded £111,000.

Rebecca Pow MP said: “Somerset Skills and Learning has provided invaluable resources both in terms of trainee apprenticeships and for the community with many organisations relying on the funding granted to deliver a wide range of services.

"Though often the money awarded may seem small, the impact it has through the work of the organisations involved makes a huge difference to those who benefit from their services.

"It is vital that we reach a solution to support the services provided by SS&L and my colleagues and I have been making the strongest possible case to the Minister.”

James Heappey MP said, “Increasing the level of skills and education in our county is the foundation on which increased productivity and economic growth will be built. To lose the services of SS&L would be a huge blow to our plans for Somerset’s economy. I’m glad the Minister has engaged so promptly and hope this can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

One MP who was conspicuous by his absence was fellow Conservative Ian Liddell-Grainger. He said he had not being invited to the meeting, which he described as 'utter incompetence', although it may having something to do with the highly controversial comments he has made about the Conservative-led Taunton Deane Borough Council in recent months.

He said the funding problem was due to Somerset's unusual demographic which meant the county would score low on government criteria when funding was being allocated, but said it was blatantly unfair and he would be writing to Anne Milton.

Somerset County Council leader David Fothergill has also been campaigning on the issue.

Cllr Fothergill said: “This announcement came as a shock to everyone and I’ll be making sure the Minister is left in no doubt of the impact that this decision will have in Somerset.

“Having a skilled workforce is crucial to employment opportunities and the economic prosperity of the county. "Anything that jeopardises access to skills training also jeopardises jobs and opportunities and that is a real concern.”