West Cheshire College may quit Chester base


Staff reporter (Chester First)

FEARS have been raised that West Cheshire College might be forced to leave Handbridge – its home for half a century.

But assurances have been given that there are no plans to stop providing college facilities in Chester.

And rumours that 80 college jobs will soon be lost have been dismissed.

College principal and chief executive Nigel Davies said: “West Cheshire College is not abandoning Chester but we are reviewing provision in the light of a 16 per cent in Government funding.”

The college operates out of new buildings which opened only a few years ago as part of a £65 million redevelopment package, but most facilities nowadays are located in Ellesmere Port, including the administrative headquarters.

Only the bulk of science and technology department remains in Eaton Road, Handbridge, where expansion has been limited by the green belt around the site.

The cash-strapped college is facing a cut in Government funding totalling just under £2.5m this year and it is now being suggested there is enough cash for one college building only.

To add to problems, numbers of 16 to 18-year-olds who go to the college have been falling in recent years for demographic reasons while competition with other neighbouring colleges, including the one in Deeside, is more intense.

Following a meeting of the governing body a week ago, rumours of 79 job losses had been circulating in Chester, but Mr Davies says there are no plans to shed so many posts, although a number of managerial positions might have to be sacrificed.

He said funding for some vocational courses which do not lead to qualifications was no longer available and some job losses would follow as a result.

Formal negotiations with staff members and trades union representatives have begun.

A few years ago the college’s then managers attempted to relocate Chester facilities to a site near the Northgate Arena.

But there was hostility to the idea in the Northgate Village community.

Now, instead, 130 flats for older people are being built there. College leaders, however, still believe a more central facility for college courses is needed in Chester.

Mr Davies said: “Although the college is exploring an estate model that supports one main campus, the college has no intention to withdraw from the Chester marketplace.

“The college is already looking at opening a more accessible city centre-based location that will be specifically designed to meet the needs of the Chester community and the college is exploring other suitable sites where it can deliver education, training and skills to the community of Chester.”

In a statement, the college’s management said: “The Further Education (FE) sector is going through a period of rapid transformation and colleges nationally and locally are facing unprecedented external funding cuts.

“In 2014-15 West Cheshire College’s core income from the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency will be reduced by over £2m.

“In order for the college to maintain high quality, relevant training and education for individuals, communities and industry, the college is looking to make reductions in pay and non-pay expenditure.

“The college is working hard with staff and recognised trade unions to mitigate job losses through offering voluntary severance and redundancy as well as ensuring redeployment opportunities are maximised.

“The college has now embarked on a consultation period with staff and recognised trade unions.”

Mr Davies added: “The college is working hard to minimise the impact on staff as well as maintaining our front line services. We will seek to manage this process as supportively as is possible within the enormous financial constraints we are under.

“The college will maintain its priority to continue the excellent quality of provision that students expect and receive.

“The college has had to make some extremely difficult decisions but they have been imperative to ensure we continue to fulfil our core function of meeting the local and regional educational and skills requirements.”

See full story in the Chester Leader

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