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Blunkett imposes board;FE Focus

David Blunkett this week imposed six new governors on the troubled Wirral Metropolitan College, after forcing the original board to resign.

Faced with the threat of legal action by the Secretary of State, the existing board agreed to stand down. But Gordon Lindsay, the retiring chair, accused the Further Education Funding Council, which recommended dismissal to the minister, of mishandling the situation and exacerbating the college's problems.

Mr Blunkett said: "The governors of Wirral Metropolitan College were unable to overcome the financial difficulties being faced by the college. The academic performance has been poor, with only 30 per cent of students achieving the qualifications for which they were studying." He praised the calibre of the new governors and said they would give the college a fresh start.

In a statement issued by Mr Lindsay and vice-chair Chris Allen, the board explained that its position "had been made untenable through extreme and unwarranted external pressures - not least political - and its members felt that they could best demonstrate their continuing commitment to the college by conceding to those pressures.

"While offering to resign, the board still disagreed with the funding council's opinion of the board's management of the college and regretted the council's failure to respond to representations regarding aspects of the funding council's conduct."

Later Mr Lindsay was more specific about what he saw as the council's failings. He accused it of "selective distribution of sensitive correspondence" about the college. "They sent information to one MP but not to all of them, and they only provided letters showing their side of the story."

He said that last September he asked if the council wanted to recommend anyone for the board's vacancies. He claims that the council replied then that it was not part of its brief, but later it said it could make recommendations if asked. Later still, said Mr Lindsay, the council said no-one could be found to take the college on in its present condition.

"There always seemed to be 'misunderstandings' between us so we started to take notes at meetings," he said.

Mr Lindsay was concerned that Mr Blunkett might find it difficult to find new governors to represent the whole community. He added that the college was on course to clear all its debts, once standing at pound;10.8 million, by 2001.

"Obviously I feel kicked in the teeth, as do my colleagues. The council has never fully said what it expected us to do to enable it to have confidence in us," he said.

A spokesperson from the FEFC said: "We recognise that feelings may be running high. We are accountable for our actions to Parliament and the people of the Wirral. Accordingly, we would wish our position to be made clear.

"As a public-sector body we always respond to MPs' requests for information. We provided a local MP with published material and letters that we had written. We do not feel it is proper for us to release letters from the college or third parties, and did not do so in this case.

"The council, through its regional offices, is well-placed to provide colleges with advice on potential board members and does so whenever requested.

"Throughout our delaings with Wirral Metropolitan College our primary concern has been to serve the best interests of students and the local community."

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