Brooklands College may be forced to sell historic building

A college fighting for survival is considering selling a historic building, FE Week understands.

Brooklands College is in severe financial trouble after getting caught up in an apprenticeship subcontracting scandal which has resulted in the government demanding it returns £20 million.

In an effort to save itself from going insolvent, the college is trying to negotiate a deal by which it repays the funding over a number of years.

This newspaper also understands that discussions have started regarding the sale of Brooklands House, at the college’s Weybridge campus.

It is a three-storey, Grade II listed red brick Victorian mansion that was built in the late 1890s. It used to house the family of Dame Ethel Locke King, who was behind the famous Brooklands racing circuit, dubbed the ‘Ascot of Motorsport’ in its heyday.

The cost of the building is unknown but it is likely to go for a substantial price considering it’s within walking distance of Weybridge Station and located inside the M25.

Brooklands College describes the Weybridge campus as being set on “spectacular grounds” on its website.

The campus has another, more modern building, with facilities split between the two including a learning resource centre, hair and beauty salon, a restaurant, training kitchens, media centre and refectory.

Brooklands College said it was unable to comment on the ongoing Education and Skills Funding Agency investigation, including the potential sale of Brooklands House.

FE Week revealed last week that the college is now being run by a Department for Education consultant after its chair, Terry Lazenby, stood down.

His replacement on an interim basis is Andrew Baird, one of the DfE’s National Leaders of Governance, who is on their payroll and takes home £300 a day for his services.

He told FE Week this week that Brooklands College is “not trading whilst insolvent”, as was previously reported, as it has “adequate cash to meet its current liabilities as they fall due”.

“The college continues to work closely with the ESFA on an ongoing investigation,” Baird added.

“I am looking forward to working with governors and staff at the college to continue to meet the needs of local communities in Surrey.

“The staff of the college provide fantastic support and a great student experience for all our students.”

Baird, who is also the chair of governors at Orbital South Colleges, was parachuted into Hadlow College earlier this year after financial irregularities were exposed.

He stopped being chair of Hadlow when it went into administration in May – making it the first to go through the new college insolvency regime.

He will be paid for up to 15 days work between now and the end of the year at Brooklands College, according to the DfE.

As revealed by FE Week last month, a whistleblower reported the Brooklands College subcontracting scandal to the Education and Skills Funding Agency in 2017 but no action was taken until this newspaper exposed it nearly two years later.

Former chancellor Philip Hammond, who is the MP for the constituency the college is based in, said the revelation was “very concerning” while shadow skills minister Gordon Marsden demanded an “urgent” independent investigation into this lack of oversight.

Hammond, who resigned as chancellor to the Treasury in July, was scheduled to meet the college’s leaders at the end of September. He has since been unavailable for comment.