College captures record contract to train troops

A Kent college has negotiated a pound;680m deal to teach soldiers construction and engineering from artisan level to masters degree

Steve Hook

The biggest college contract on record has been clinched as further education brings its expertise to military training.

Mid-Kent College will be paid pound;680 million over 30 years to take over engineering and construction training at one of the Army's most prestigious bases and home of the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME), in Chatham, Kent.

The contract starts next year.

Andrew Brader, vice-principal of the college, will run the education programme at Brompton barracks, reporting to the Army.

"The military ethos is very important and we have had to show that we can understand the culture and how they work," he said. "And I know that good pastoral care is very important to the Army. That comes across very clearly, despite some of the things we see in the media.

"The college will shortly begin a recruitment drive for additional construction and engineering instructional staff. Those recruited will assist us in training soldiers at a range of levels - from artisan through to MSc in civil engineering, leaving the RSME free to concentrate on their delivery of military training."

Construction and engineering are a big part of army activity, with soldiers required to carry out building - everything from hospitals to runways, often in conflict zones - and to reach the locations that conventional building firms cannot.

The deal has been 10 years in the making, with a long decision-making process within the Ministry of Defence about whether the training should be put out to tender. Then came a lengthy process of awarding contracts and sub-contracts after a tough round of bidding for the work.

David Smith, area director for the Learning and Skills Council for Kent, Surrey and Sussex, said: "The LSC applauds the Mid-Kent College engagement with the skills agenda and is looking closely at this exciting and innovative partnership to track the successes it can achieve."

The deal is part of a pound;3 billion public-private partnership for the running of the base at Chatham. The main contractors are Babcock International Group and Carillion Construction, with the college acting as a sub-contractor. Babcock is an established contractor with the armed forces. It also works for many public sector organisations including British Energy, National Grid and Network Rail.

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Steve Hook

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