College that needed huge bailouts set to merge

A college that has received millions of pounds in government bailouts has announced plans to merge.

Accrington and Rossendale College will join forces with grade one Nelson and Colne College later this year, under plans announced by the two institutions today.

“We are delighted to announce the vision for a new merged college for Pennine Lancashire building on the strengths” of both colleges, said Lynda Mason, Accrington and Rossendale’s interim principal, and Amanda Melton, principal of Nelson and Colne College, in a joint statement.

“Both colleges have ambitious plans to support students, staff, employers and other stakeholders and to achieve greater success,” they added.

Accrington and Rossendale College was rated ‘good’ at its most recent Ofsted inspection, in February, but has an ‘inadequate’ rating for financial health.

According to its 2016/17 accounts, the college received “loan funding of £1,921,000” during the year, “bringing total exceptional financial support to £2,247,000”, as previously reported by FE Week in a story that reflected on several college in need of merger partners.

It had also “received a commitment from the Education and Skills Funding Agency that they will provide a further £1,228,000 of funding in the period to March 2018”.

The college, which had an income of £12.3 million and 3,990 learners in 2016/17, has held a notice of concern for financial health since November 2015.

It emerged from Lancashire area review, which ended in February 2017, with a recommendation to merge with Burnley College by May 2017, but this plan never came to fruition.

FE Week reported last month that the college was involved in an FE commissioner-led structure and prospects appraisal to find a new partner.

Nelson and Colne College, which was rated ‘outstanding’ at its last Ofsted inspection in April 2008, had a turnover of £20.1 million and 15,500 learners in 2016/17.

It was part of the same area review as its new merger partner, and had planned to remain standalone.

According to the report from the review, published August 2017, the college had “a strong balance sheet with low borrowing, healthy reserves, and a strong current ratio”.

Consultation on the proposed merger runs from today until May 27, with the plan for the two colleges to formally join forces in November.