Five colleges handed DfE warnings over finances

Five struggling colleges have been hit with a notice to improve by the government this morning, after they were all assessed to have “inadequate” financial health.

Three of the warning notices have been dished out to North Hertfordshire College, Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College, and Coulsdon Sixth Form College after they requested an unspecified amount of exceptional financial support.

Northumberland College and Worthing College had theirs handed to them following an assessment of their financial plans.

EHWLC received a damning FE Commissioner intervention report two weeks ago in which it was revealed the college was now dependent on government bailouts for its survival.

It found a total failure of leadership and governance. Garry Phillips was principal at the time but jumped ship before the findings could be revealed.

But the fallout from the report has led to Mr Phillips leaving his new post at City College Plymouth, following pressure from unions for him to resign.

North Hertfordshire College came under fire earlier this year after its chief executive, Matt Hamnett, was paid almost £300,000 in 2016/17 – a £68,000 increase and nearly double the sector average.

This was despite the college only having an annual turnover of £30 million. Mr Hamnett left the college in November 2017 but it has now been brought into scope for FE Commissioner intervention.

Coulsdon Sixth Form College was referred to the FE Commissioner on October 2017 and an independent assessment of the college’s “capability and capacity” led to a Structure and Prospects Appraisal in January this year.

Its financial notice says the outcome of the SPA was a “recommendation for a Type B merger with Croydon College”, which is planned to take place on January 1, 2019.

Northumberland College was visited by Richard Atkins’ team earlier this year.

His report, published in October, stated that the college has undergone a “cash flow crisis” and could see its finances plummet further.

It revealed declining learner recruitment, inadequate apprenticeship delivery, low achievement and “last minute negotiations” to defer loan repayments at the college, and warned that it may yet need to request exceptional financial support.

Worthing College is also now in scope for FE Commissioner intervention.

Today’s financial notice stated it was now committed to a merger with the Chichester College Group, which is a “change to the original recommendation for Worthing College following the Sussex Area Review”.

“As part of this process, the FE Commissioner was made aware that the Worthing College’s financial health would be assessed as inadequate based on the latest financial plans,” it added.

“The Commissioner supported the change of area review recommendation on the grounds that a merger would help protect the long-term viability of the college and bring benefits in terms of quality and the curriculum offer.

“The FE Commissioner’s team will assess whether any further review of the college’s position is required in response to this notice.”

All five colleges with notices today will now have to keep a close eye on their cash flow positions while keeping the ESFA informed.