An MP has hit out at a college group’s decision to close and sell a historic adult education site.
Harriett Baldwin, the Conservative MP for West Worcestershire, said she was “shocked” by an announcement made by Warwickshire College Group (WCG) on Friday that it will shut Malvern Hills College by August 2021.
It is the latest case in a string of colleges looking to sell off a campus in order to balance the books.
Malvern Hills began delivering to students in 1886 but WCG says it has conducted an 18-month review of its provision and found it was no longer viable to run due to “reduced adult education funding and a diminishing customer base”.
The college currently has around 900 adult learners on part-time arts and craft commercial courses but also offers government-funded vocational programmes including hair and barbering via the adult education budget.
The government-funded provision moved to WCG’s Evesham College campus in September owing to the Covid-19 outbreak while Malvern Hills stayed closed.
Under WCG’s plans, government-funded provision offered at Malvern Hill will be moved to Evesham College permanently – which is 40 minutes away by car and over an hour away by public transport.
The college group said they could not say how many jobs were at risk at this stage.
Baldwin (pictured above) said: “I am shocked with the Warwickshire College Group for taking this decision at a time when training young people could not be more important, and I am saddened for those people taking courses like hair dressing or beauty therapy who are faced with a long diversion to Evesham to continue their studies.
“They also have done it without even a consultation or the courtesy of sharing their thinking with me. In fact, when the group took over the Malvern site they promised they would invest. Last week’s spending review delivered a £375 million investment in skills.”
She added that this feels like a “very short-term decision” and has asked for an “urgent conversation” with WCG chief executive Angela Joyce to “understand her thinking and to reassure me that this is not just an asset-stripping exercise”.
WCG was formed through the merger of Warwickshire College Group and South Worcestershire College in 2016, at which point WCG’s name was kept. The group now has seven campuses – three of which are in Worcestershire.
When announcing the closure of the Malvern Hill campus on Friday, Joyce said her group has “worked hard to maintain” its colleges in Worcestershire, all of which had “quality or financial issues when they merged into the group”.
“Given the widely-known pressures in the FE sector, linked to a decade of funding cuts, we have had to continually drive improvements and like almost all organisations and businesses, Covid-19 has impacted WCG significantly,” she continued.
“The type of education offered at Malvern Hills College is sadly no longer viable for WCG as Malvern Hills College has been financially supported by the rest of the Group since. We recognise the important role the college plays in supporting part of the community and we hope we can find a way for the courses to continue for local people to attend.”
WCG was also keen to point out that it will be retaining a training facility in Malvern for digital and cyber skills at a site in Science Park, aimed at training young people and adults “in the skills to meet local employer demand”.
According to WCG’s latest accounts, for 2018/19, the group generated a deficit before other gains and losses of £2.9 million. The group also recorded net debt of £7.3 million.
The accounts state that as of the end of July 2019, the group was in its fifth year of a “debt reduction strategy linked to a series of property transactions and an attendant debt amortisation schedule”.
Other site sales for WCG in recent years included selling its Henley College campus to Wasps Rugby.
As well as closing and selling Malvern Hill, the group plans to sell buildings that are part of Evesham College as it is a “currently under-utilised site”.
WCG is one of a number of colleges that have announced plans to close campuses and been met with MP opposition in recent years.