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Business booms for exam body

Profits at Wales's examining body have increased more than 36-fold and business is booming, according to its latest accounts.

But the Welsh Joint Education Committee is paying 10.25 per cent interest on a pound;302,000 loan taken out 17 years ago to buy some of the buildings it occupies on Cardiff's Western Avenue. The current Bank of England base rate is just 4.5 per cent.

The WJEC's income was up by 10 per cent in its financial year ending last September - from pound;16 million to pound;17.6m. It turned in a surplus of pound;1.24m compared with just pound;34,000 in the previous year.

The limited company and charity suffered significant losses on activities funded by European Union grants in 2002 and has been forced to pay back pound;1.2m in grants. The Charities Commission is investigating the problems.

The committee's directors also admit they did not have enough reserves to cover the organisation's running costs for six months - one of its key corporate targets.

But the WJEC's exams business is booming, with entries for A2-level exams up by 11 per cent to 34,500. Entries for AS-levels are also up 10 per cent to 43,000 while GCSE entries have risen by 6 per cent to 359,204.

The pound;302,000 loan to purchase property in Cardiff was taken out with Rhondda Cynon Taf council. The board still owes pound;283,000, and is expected to make its final repayment in March 2027. The legal ownership of its buildings has still to be transferred to WJEC, according to an independent auditors' report.

Gareth Pierce, WJEC's chief executive, said: "The loan was taken out under a fixed rate in 1987 - when interest rates were high and then became even higher - for the purchase of the Mead building and parcel of land, now part of the Western Avenue site.

"Because of a complication to do with the transfer of our property from local government to the present WJEC charitable company, which is only now being resolved, there has not yet been a proper opportunity for addressing the question of re-mortgaging under new terms. Hopefully, we can do this before the rates next reach 10 per cent."

The committee's financial report also pays tribute to Wyn Roberts, the WJEC's former chief executive and "a real Welsh gentleman", who died last summer.

* Wil Edmunds has been appointed as chair of ACCAC, the qualifications, curriculum and assessment authority for Wales. Mr Edmunds, 56, is principal and chief executive of Deeside College in Connah's Quay. He succeeds Brian Connolly, who stepped down this summer. Welsh Education Minister Jane Davidson said: "There are many challenges ahead but Wil brings a breadth of experience on the Welsh and UK stage which will more than measure up to them."

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