College running on emergency cash to sell campus

A college in dire financial straits is looking to sell off one of its campuses to balance the books, the FE Commissioner has reported.

The commissioner’s team intervened at Greater Brighton Metropolitan College (GB Met) following a request for emergency funding and a Notice to Improve from the Department for Education.

Their report, published this morning but dated August 2020, reveals: “Liquidity is weak, debt levels are high, and the underlying operating performance is poor.

“Total income is declining, staff costs are too high, and the college is operating across five main delivery sites.”

Had the government bailout not been granted, the report adds, it would have left GB Met in “a significant negative cash position”.

Despite that, the report also covers a number of positive aspects of the college’s progress since FE Week reported in July it had received emergency funding and principal Nick Juba had been replaced by Chichester College Group executive principal Andy Green, who was seconded on an interim basis.

But the college’s five campuses – from East Brighton across to West Worthing: a range of nearly 20 miles – are “not sustainable” and GB Met is currently working on selling one of them, the refectory at their Broadwater Campus in Worthing.

The report says: “The overhead cost of running five sites is expensive and efficiency opportunities for curriculum rationalisation are diluted by falling learner numbers.

“The resolution of the estate infrastructure will be a key feature of improving financial operating efficiencies and further work on an estate solution is required.”

Three of the sites are owned and two are leased, with specialist facilities across all sites, but space utilisation was rated as “low” in the report.

Subcontracting is also an area of concern for the FE Commissioner, with over half of GB Met’s learners in 2018-19 being delivered “poor” provision from outside the college.

The college had planned to go against its own policy and increase subcontracted activity in 2019-20, yet a data return from this summer showed it had reduced against the previous year.

The quality of the Ofsted grade three college’s apprenticeships, since it was formed from a 2017 merger of Northbrook College and City College Brighton and Hove, was called “disappointing” in the report – GB Met is planning to rationalise the breadth of its apprentices offer to streamline provision.

The report also highlights the “excess” number of management posts after FE Week reported last month up to 20 of those postholders were at risk of redundancy as part of a clear-out.

But the report is complementary of the actions taken by chair Sue Berelowitz, a former deputy children’s commissioner for England, who was appointed in April.

She has “led a refresh, review and recasting of the board’s committee structure and membership,” the report reads, and Green’s approach and grasp of the challenges is also “encouraging”.

Governors and staff were said to be positive about the change in leadership and style of engagement.

In a letter accompanying the report, skills minister Gillian Keegan told Berelowitz she was “encouraged” by the college’s “prompt and decisive actions,” but she remains concerned “by the numerous outstanding issues that threaten the college’s immediate and long-term future”.

Green has said the college is “pleased the commissioner recognise the hard work and innovative thinking that the team have undertaken in a very short space of time.

“We have all the foundations of an Ofsted ‘outstanding’ college—passionate, dedicated staff who are committed to delivering for their students, state-of-the-art facilities and fantastic achievement rates across much of our course provision. By all working together, we are confident we can make the College sustainable again; both in terms of quality and financially.”