A MINISTER sparked anger when he told critics of Government cuts to college funding to stop “complaining” – and ruled out a U-turn.

The shock 17.5 per cent - for those aged 18 at the start of this academic year – has angered Darlington College’s principal and alarmed many MPs.

The move will strip more than £300,000 from the college’s budget, cash meant for teenagers who are often striving to overcome troubled backgrounds.

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But Matthew Hancock, the Conservative skills minister, insisted the cut - from £4,000 to £3,300, for a full-time 18-year-old - merely took college funding back to its 2012-13 level.

The minister denied he was punishing some of the less able, saying: “Those who are 18 in education are no more likely to be disadvantaged than anybody else.”

And he said it was no good “simply complaining about things”, adding: “It’s difficult being a minister when there’s no money left.”

But principal Tim Grant said: “Darlington college was notified, without any consultation, that our funding would be cut by 17.5 per cent.

“That has a huge impact on young people in our area and it’s going to have a significant impact on this college’s funding.

“I firmly believe these funding cuts are ill-targeted and are full of unintended consequences for the communities we serve.

“This is targeting the very students who need more support, not less, and it’s disingenuous to argue that students require less investment as a result of their prior studies.”

Jenny Chapman, the town’s Labour MP, said: “The minister is wrong. It may be small beer in cash terms, but this will make a substantial difference to individual colleges.

“They are already underfunded, yet they are the sector that most needs support, because the young people have often had real difficulties and need an extra year.”

The plan to cut funding for 18-year-olds at further education colleges from next September was buried in last month’s ‘mini Budget’.

Added to other cuts in the pipeline, colleges are on course to lose 25 per cent of their funding between 2010 and 2016, some leaders have warned.

Each college will be notified of the exact size of its cut within the next few weeks, Mr Hancock said – suggesting they would vary across the country.

He acknowledged colleges – unlike schools – paid VAT, but added: “It also gives the college much more power over borrowing, to manage its finances.”

The department for business (BIS) must plug a £1.4bn hole in his finances, but this has been blamed on chaos surrounding loans to students at private colleges.

Meanwhile, the Government has found huge sums for free-school meals for wealthier primary pupils (£600m) and the marriage tax break (around £800m).