Concerns over nuclear college plans

Plans for a new college to train nuclear power plant workers have sparked concerns among colleges who had been hoping to deliver training for the industry themselves.

Skills Minister Matthew Hancock was at the PoliticsHome Skills Summit in London on Tuesday (January 28) when he announced the proposals. He said the new college could “provide the specialist, advanced skills” for the nuclear industry.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) later told FE Week the location of the new college had not been “established”.

The announcement caused raised eyebrows at Bridgwater College, in Somerset, where principal Mike Robbins has spent the last three years planning for and developing training facilities and courses for workers set to help build a new nuclear power station at nearby Hinkley Point by 2023.

Mr Robbins told FE Week: “We are awaiting further details, but would hope to play as full a part in any discussions as possible. We have invested much of our own time, effort and resources in preparing for the new nuclear build on our doorstep and in developing plans with contractors and other colleges and training providers in the region to meet the skills and training needs of the project.”

Another provider that could be affected by the plans is South Gloucestershire & Stroud College. It has submitted proposals with local enterprise partnership gfirst (Growing Gloucestershire) to develop a renewable energy, engineering and nuclear skills training centre at the decommissioned Berkeley power station, in Gloucestershire.

A spokesperson for the college declined to comment on whether its plans could be undermined by the proposed nuclear college.

Mr Hancock’s announcement came just weeks after the government unveiled proposals to create a new college, the first since colleges were incorporated in 1993, to support the engineering skills needed for the new HS2 rail project.

He said he wanted it to be an “elite centre” like the nuclear college.

“In the next 20 years, some £930bn will be spent across the world on new nuclear reactors — and £250bn on decommissioning old ones. In Britain alone, 40,000 jobs could be created,” said Mr Hancock.

“So the new college will build on the industry’s work — and provide the specialist, advanced skills to meet that demand — and then sell that expertise to the world.”

Bridgwater College has already invested more than £2m of its own money on its scheme and attracted millions more from outside organisations. Among the investors was French firm EDF Energy, which will build the new facility. Its managing director, Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, was quoted in a BIS press release on the new nuclear college plans announced by Mr Hancock.

Mr Robbins said: “Although many of our programmes, qualifications and facilities have been designed to meet local demand, some are designed to meet industry needs on a national scale, and it wouldn’t make sense to replicate them. The extent to which a new national nuclear college would impact on this work would therefore largely depend on its intended purpose, how it will operate and where it is located.”

See Mr Robbins’ expert piece on page 10