Merger of county colleges rejected

Chris Nattress, the principal of Lakes College
Chris Nattress, the principal of Lakes College
11 January 2017 2:47PM

Carlisle College has thrown out a bid to merge with Lakes College at Lillyhall and is now back in takeover talks with one of the largest providers of further education in the country.

It has emerged that governors at the city campus have chosen to pursue a merger with Newcastle-based NCG against the preferred option set out in a new Government review into the future of further education in Cumbria.

The Cumbria Area Review contains five recommendations including the merger of Carlisle College with Lakes College at Lillyhall but the chance to go in with NCG is preferred by members of Carlisle’s corporation board.

The review’s recommendations were agreed last July but the report was only published yesterday.

Steve Salkeld, acting principal of Carlisle College, said: “When the recommendations were made it was something the Carlisle College board had to consider. We drilled down into it and recognised there were credible options but we feel the NCG option remains the most credible and of benefit to the college.

“And that is what our board has decided to do, to pursue the merger with NCG. We have recognised as a college for some time that that we did not have a secure sustainable future.”

Mr Salkeld says benefits include NCG’s established and strong structure and the opportunity to retain much of Carlisle College’s autonomy.

Potential for a merger with NCG first emerged last spring.

“Constructive discussions” resumed last month, Mr Salkeld told the News & Star.

Lakes College chiefs have expressed their disappointment.

Principal Chris Nattress said: “We had hoped that a merged college would bring benefits for our local communities, with the best of both worlds, but we do respect Carlisle’s decision and wish them luck with their plans.”

The news comes as the Government review revealed yesterday that Carlisle College has been assessed as being “financially weak”. It was also served with a “notice of concern for financial health” in November.

Mr Salkeld says the methodology behind the government’s financial assessment changed recently and impacted on its rating, moving it from “satisfactory” to “inadequate”.

Recommendations agreed by the Cumbria Area Review steering group also included a joint venture between local colleges and the University of Cumbria to drive forward skills and training. A post-16 skills forum is also to be established.

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