Second solo UTC hit with EFA improvement notice

Second solo UTC hit with EFA improvement notice

A second standalone university technical college (UTC) has been handed a financial notice to improve over an “apparent loss of financial control”.

The notice to Buckinghamshire UTC was sent to interim principal Tony Withell on May 5 and published by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) today (May 13).

It was issued as a result of the 14 to 19 vocational institution “accruing a significant deficit” and “experiencing cashflow difficulties for 2016/17” which would require an advance of EFA funding, and failing to ensure “robust financial management, control and oversight”.

In a letter to accompany the notice, Sue Baldwin, the EFA’s director for academies and maintained schools, said: “I must be clear however that we are concerned by the apparent loss of financial control, the failure of the trust to balance its budget and the circumstances in which the requested advance for 2016-17 has become necessary.”

Mr Withell told FE Week: “Good financial management at Buckinghamshire UTC is an absolute priority and we are in discussions with the EFA about this matter.”

He added: “We have ambitious targets for recruitment for the autumn; in the meantime we continue to deliver a high quality technical education pathway for our students, equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to go onto higher education, training or employment.”

Figures obtained by FE Week through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests made earlier this year show that Buckinghamshire UTC has been running at just 21.7 per cent capacity this academic year.

It had just 130 students enrolled in 2015/16, down from 150 in 2014/15 — despite a capacity of 600.

Today’s notice now means that the five UTCs with the lowest numbers of learners relative to overall capacity, as shown by FE Week’s FOI figures based on UTCs that opened between 2010 and 2013, have all either announced they are to close or are in financial difficulties.

Daventry UTC, which, with 151 out of a possible 600 learners, is 25 per cent full became the first standalone college of its kind to be issued a financial improvement notice, published by the EFA last Friday (May 5).

UTC Lancashire, which has 113 out of a possible 800 learners, meaning that it’s just 14.1 per cent full, announced on May 3 that it would be shutting up shop in August.

That announcement came after Central Bedfordshire UTC, which is 16.8 per cent full with just 101 out of a possible 600 learners, announced in March that it would close in August.

And the trust that Wigan UTC is part of, Bright Futures Educational Trust, was hit with a financial notice to improve in March. Wigan UTC has lowest proportion of learners compared to capacity, at 70 out of 500, or 14 per cent.

Today’s notice to Buckinghamshire UTC ordered it to carry out an “external review of financial management and governance” by June 30.

This review should look at whether it “has the right mix of skills and experience to oversee the financial recovery and ensure value for money” and consider “the option of joining a multi-academy trust”.

The notice also ordered the college to “urgently review” its finances and to have its financial recovery plan validated by “someone with both educational and financial expertise” to “test the viability of your curriculum offer against the financial constraints”.