Commissioner report shows governors' surprise at college's dire finances

A new FE Commissioner report has shown how the dire financial position of a college that needed two government bailouts last December came as a surprise to its governors.

The report on Bradford College, following intervention by Richard Atkins and his team, was published today.

“The college now finds itself with a serious cash shortfall and inadequate financial health,” it warned.

The grade three-rated college was hit with a financial notice to improve in November.

But today’s report pointed out that it “was only at the meeting of June 22, 2017 (month 11 of the financial year) that the board were made aware of management concerns around the college finances”.

It adds that “during the period July 2016 – June 2017 there is insufficient evidence in the board minutes to demonstrate questions being asked, actions being taken, and challenges being made to address the deteriorating financial position of the college”.

“Management accounts were consistently late, and papers are confusing and unclear,” it added.

FE Week revealed last month that Bradford College had to be bailed out twice in December, to the tune of £1.5 million each time.

Figures revealing the amount of exceptional financial support were published accidentally by the Department for Education.

No reason was given at the time for the bailouts, and the college didn’t provide one when asked for a comment.

The FE commissioner was sent in to carry out an assessment of the college’s “capability and capacity to make the required changes and improvements”, and shortly after it was announced that its chief executive, Andy Welsh, would be stepping down at the end of the academic year.

The executive team were recognised in today’s report for acknowledging that “mistakes had been made between April and July 2017, when they became aware that savings needed to be made”.

The report concluded that the college has “some serious financial challenges to overcome”, and is currently working on developing a strategic financial recovery plan to start this process.

It warned of a “lack of ownership of the financial problem” as there “seemed to be a consistent view of blaming others” during interviews with the intervention team.

The commissioner was forthright in his recommendations.

He said the board should urgently commission “an independent piece of work to enable governors and the executive to understand what went wrong in 2016/17 and why it was not reported until after the year end”.

The management team, to include all budget holders, should also “undertake finance training to enable them to effectively monitor their own budgets and the whole college financial performance, as a team”.

The college was unavailable for comment ahead of publication.