Cornwall’s two standalone FE colleges should work closer together with an eye to merging at a later date, or merge immediately, FE commissioner Richard Atkins has recommended.
In a report looking at the financial health of Cornwall College and Truro and Penwith College, the FE commissioner’s team has considered the financial health to the two separate colleges going forwards.
The intervention follows financial difficulties at Cornwall College. The report acknowledges that Cornwall College "started to experience severe financial problems" in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 financial years. Despite setting a budget for 2017-18 with a £252,000 surplus, the draft accounts show the college actually was operating with a deficit of £77,000 during the year. A fall in student numbers has also hampered the colleges financial health.
In contrast, Truro and Penwith College was deemed to be in "outstanding" financial health for the last six years, although it is now forecasting this will "deteriorate" to just good. The report notes: "Whilst the college has a strong current ratio and no borrowings, it has more recently experienced much tougher operating conditions," despite growing student numbers.
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Cornwall Group is judged as good by Ofsted while Truro and Penwith College is deemed to be outstanding.
The FE Commissioner recommends the following two steps:
- Cornwall College and Truro and Penwith College should "enter into a memorandum of understanding to work together through actively participating in a strategic steering group", to be chaired by one of the FE commissioner’s team. The report said: "This will direct the work necessary for the boards of both colleges to be able to take a decision, by December 2020 at the latest, as to whether to progress to the creation of a single entity".
The alternative to this would be to deliver a financially viable, standalone Cornwall College.
- Cornwall College should appoint an interim principal, who will then work to the Cornwall College Board in implementing the recommendations and decisions of the Cornwall Strategic Steering Group to deliver the FE commissioner’s Cornwall review recommendations. The interim principal will then be responsible for ensuring the implementation of the terms and conditions of any financial assistance provided by the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) and transaction unit.
Cornwall College and Truro and Penwith College have been contacted for comment.