Chamber and training provider suddenly shuts down

St Helen’s Chamber called in administrators this afternoon after a ‘perfect storm’ of financial issues

St Helen’s Chamber called in administrators this afternoon after a ‘perfect storm’ of financial issues

14 Mar 2024, 20:50

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A Merseyside chamber of commerce, which is also a training provider and employer representative body, has suddenly gone bust, leaving more than 200 apprentices in limbo, and a local skills improvement plan up in the air.

St Helen’s Chamber, which is also an independent training provider, called in administrators this afternoon amid a “perfect storm” of government funding cuts, losses from its skills business, and a “nationwide fall in office values”.

The chamber was named the designated employer representative body for the Liverpool City Region in 2022, charged with developing the city region’s statutory local skills improvement plan (LSIP).

Around 260 apprentices and 30 study programme students have been told to await further information about their next steps, while most of the chamber’s 70 staff have been made redundant.

Ofsted rated the chamber ‘good’ in its January 2023 full inspection. It had 740 members, according to its latest accounts, including local colleges and training organisations.

Its apprenticeship offer included level 3 business administrator apprenticeships, level 3 early years practitioner, and level 2 customer service practitioner standards.

At the time of its last Ofsted inspection, it also had 67 adult learners on bookkeeping, construction and hairdressing courses.

The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority said it was “working with administrators and other partners to support learners to access to access alternative provision.”

“We will also offer whatever support we can to those employees impacted,” a spokesperson said.

Thirty-eight employer representative bodies (ERBs) were chosen by the government to develop local skills improvement plans, most of them chambers of commerce. Funding worth £20.9 million over three years was made available, £550,000 each, to ERBs to develop, implement and review LSIPs.

St Helens posted a £200,000 loss for 2022-23 on a turnover of £5.7 million. It received £157,000 in government grants this year. 

It has been led by chief executive Tracy Mawson since 2020. Mawson was previously deputy chief executive and director of business services at the chamber, clocking up over 12 years at the organisation.

Administrators from Grant Thornton said “a perfect storm of reductions in government funding, difficulties in generating a surplus from its training arm, and the hit to its balance sheet from the nationwide fall in office values” led to the chamber’s immediate closure. 

There are four remaining chambers of commerce operating in the Liverpool City Region area. However, as a designated employer representative body has never gone bust before, it’s not known how the ERB status gets transferred to another organisations.

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