College bosses reassure students over finances

Angry college bosses in Norfolk have reassured students they are not among a clutch of further education institutions facing severe financial struggles because of a botched rebuilding programme.

College bosses in and around Norfolk have reassured students that they are not among a clutch of further education institutions facing cash crises because of a botched rebuilding programme.

Government watchdogs this week accused the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) of "reckless behaviour" over its scheme to fund building projects at hundreds of colleges nationwide.

The Commons public accounts committee (PAC) found that the LSC had approved building projects for 79 colleges that needed funding totalling almost �2.7bn more than the council could afford.

This meant the LSC froze funding for projects at more than 140 colleges, many of which had already spent millions of pounds preparing for rebuilding.

The committee said 23 colleges now had long-term debts exceeding 40pc of their annual income and 13 were deemed to be at risk because of "inadequate financial health".

After being given approval in principle by the LSC, City College Norwich spent more than �3m to pave the way for a �173m rebuild, and the College of West Anglia laid out a "significant sum" on its �150m-�170m plan to relocate Isle College from Wisbech to March and to build a new college on the edge of King's Lynn.

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But college bosses insist they are not among those establishments left with huge debts.

A spokesman for the Norwich college said: "City College's finances remain sound, despite the cost of preparing for a redevelopment that is now on hold. We are investigating alternative ways of continuing to develop our campus, and we will continue to seek support from the government for our ambitious plans.

"The PAC report makes depressing reading for the further education sector, including City College.

"The college remains very disappointed that this funding fiasco has delayed our plans to deliver the first-class training facilities and learning resources that our students and the wider community deserve."

A spokesman for the College of West Anglia said: "While we are pleased to note that the report lays the blame for this firmly at the door of the LSC and the government departments responsible for monitor-ing them, we remain deeply disapp-ointed that our plans for new campus developments in King's Lynn and March have been seriously affected.

"In light of the current capital funding position, we have now started to plan a new estates strategy and, together with some of our external stakeholders, we will be developing our plans during the coming months."

Yarmouth College had secured �5.2m towards the �10m first phase of its �40m rebuild scheme and had been due to submit plans for the second phase this summer, but that has been put on hold.

Elsewhere in Norfolk and Suffolk:

East Norfolk Sixth Form College, at Gorleston, is still in the early stages of a scheme to build a new �20m classroom block.

Lowestoft College is in the queue for a �50m redevelopment.

Paston College, at North Walsham is waiting to see if cash will be forthcoming for a �23m scheme to move to the outskirts of the town.

LSC chief executive Geoff Russell has insisted that no college will be allowed to fall into genuine financial difficulties.