College sell-off hit by ‘summer closure’ delay

Uncertainty continues to hang over the future of K College, which is being broken up following a “failed merger”, after the tendering process was delayed.

Invitations to tender (ITT) were due to be sent out by the Skills Funding Agency between July and September to organisations interested in taking over the college’s provision.

An email sent to interested bodies said: “In order to allow organisations to better prepare their tenders, rather than requiring work to be done over the summer, when many organisations are closed as the academic year ends, we have moved the launch of the ITT to early October.”

Short-listed organisations are now due give presentations and attend interviews on their bids in October, with contracts being awarded the following two months.

The provision and estates of the college are expected to be split up and sold off after the college, formed by a merger between West Kent College and South Kent College in 2010, ran into multi-million pound debts.

The college was issued with a notice of concern by the agency, which it owes £15m.

The agency declined to say whether the debts would be transferred to the winning bidder.

It also declined to say how many providers had expressed an interest in taking over the college’s provision.

“While a procurement is running, we are not in a position to disclose any details with regard to applications,” said an agency spokesperson.

The delay in the tendering process should not prevent contracts from being awarded on time, she said, adding: “Contracts will continue to be awarded in line with the indicative timetable we have set out.”

Seven parts of the college’s provision are on offer, including 16 to 19 provision in Dover, Folkestone or Ashford, Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells grouped together and 19+ provision in these three areas.

Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) directly-funded provision at Ashford and Tonbridge is also up for grabs.

College principal Phil Frier said: “There is a lot of interest from other colleges, training providers and universities in bidding for the work currently operating across all five towns.

“This is great news and ensures the continuation of the college’s provision for the foreseeable future.”

Details of the sell-off were listed in a sales prospectus from the agency, Education Funding Agency and HEFCE.

Two open days were held on May 22 and 23, at two of the college’s five campuses, for interested parties to find out more about the college and its provision. Fifty providers registered to attend.