University takeover of struggling college delayed, again

A cash-strapped London college’s on-off planned merger with a university has been delayed yet again.

Lambeth College is now “preparing to become part of the London South Bank University family from the beginning of February 2019” instead of the turn of the year, a spokesperson for the two institutions has revealed to FE Week.

The partnership was first announced in December 2016, after an FE commissioner visit to the college three months earlier concluded that it was “no longer sustainable” unless it merged.

The merger was originally meant to go through by July 2017.

In January this year, it emerged that the plans had hit the buffers and the college was in the market for a new merger partner.

Following an FE commissioner-led structure and prospects appraisal, Lambeth College announced in March that it had reverted back to the original plan.

The subsequent consultation document said the merger would take place by July 31, or “a date as soon as practicable after this date”.

In August LSBU announced that the merger had been signed off by the skills minister, Anne Milton, and was expected to go through by January next year.

Before then, it needs parliamentary approval: the relevant statutory instrument was laid before parliament on October 11, and the process is expected to complete later this month.

According to Lambeth College’s most recent governing body minutes, from a meeting on July 12, the college is wholly dependent on cash it received from the restructuring facility.

Its 2016/17 accounts, published in December last year, revealed it was expecting a £25 million bailout from the fund earlier this year.

Minutes from a board meeting in May indicated that this sum had gone up to £29 million.

“The finance committee also noted that the college was totally reliant on the restructuring fund to remain solvent in 2018/19. The minimum drawdown would be £4.9m,” the college’s July minutes said.

The committee “also discussed the impact on the college if the proposed merger is delayed beyond 1 January 2019 and, in particular, if delayed beyond 31 March 2019”.

It “recognised that there would need to be a major piece of work with a number of stakeholders to ensure that the college remained solvent and access the full restructuring facility funding before March 31, 2019”.

Lambeth College, currently rated ‘requires improvement’ by Ofsted, has held a notice of concern for financial health from the Education and Skills Funding Agency since June 2013, which was joined by a notice to improve for financial control in June this year.

When it goes through, the Lambeth and LSBU merger will be the second college and university link-up in recent months.

Bolton College merged with the University of Bolton in August, using an innovative merger model that’s designed to give greater protection to the FE provision than a traditional merger would.