Skip to main content

Bye-bye Bilston, hello auditors

Bilston Community College, once lauded for its innovative education but then dubbed the worst college in the land, is no more.

The bricks and mortar may go but what remain are the unanswered questions about the cost of closure and the policies followed by its funding bodies. There are also 400,000 files on microfiche and 200 boxes of documents for auditors, the Learning and Skills Council, lawyers and historians to mull over.

Bilston was closed in 1999, and formally taken over by Wulfrun College to create Wolverhampton College. It had received a scathing inspection report from the then Further Education Funding Council, it was seriously in debt, and police were called in to investigate allegations of fraud.

When final accounts were published - only in October of last year - they showed a deficit of nearly pound;34 million. Most of this was for courses approved by the then auditors, Deloitte amp; Touche, but later deemed ineligible for funding.

In March, the Learning and Skills Council - which succeeded the FEFC - announced it had lodged a legal claim against Deloitte amp; Touche to recover estimated losses in excess of pound;25m.

Bilston had been a college which had seen rapid growth. In 1996, it had 47,500 students and a budget of pound;23m. Its strength - as it was then seen - was in its ability to franchise courses throughout the country. But in 1997, the FEFC ended its cash-for-growth programme and Bilston's funding dropped by one-fifth. This lay at the heart of its problems.

It has been argued that the cost of closing Bilston has far exceeded the cost of keeping it open.

Apart from money for redundancies, for professional fees and for rationalisation, there are the large sums that have been spent on Wolverhampton College. In 1999-2000, its average level of funding unit was pound;35, compared to the average in the sector of pound;17.20. Wolverhampton has also received pound;15m for capital building, including the demolition of Bilston's main site.

No one has put a cost on the huge number of investigations that have been carried out on Bilston. The police investigation took more than two years. It ended last August with the statement that "no evidence was found to suggest that any of the activities of the college were of a criminal nature".

Accountants for the LSC are poring over the books now, in preparation for the court action. They may be well-thumbed. There have been two forensic audits and a special investigation by the FEFC. The then Department for Education and Employment also got in on the act, the Charity Commission has also had a look, and so have the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the National Audit Office.

The first part of the building to be demolished was the principal's former office and the corporation boardroom. Other college buildings, included one which is listed, remain boarded up.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you