FE commissioner intervenes at Hull College over finance worries

FE commissioner raises concerns over 'liquidity issues' at Hull College Group after its financial health rated inadequate by Skills Funding Agency

Will Martin

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One of the UK's largest college groups has been placed under FE commissioner intervention after concerns were raised about its finances.

An intervention report for the Hull College Group has been published today, after it was visited by the FE commissioner’s team between 29 November and 1 December. The college had been issued a notice of concern on 11 November by the Skills Funding Agency after its financial health was rated inadequate following an application for exceptional financial support.

In FE commissioner Richard Atkins' assessment summary, his team highlights a “substantial amount of work” that the college needs to achieve by if it is to secure a sustained financial recovery.

It says that the college is required to tackle "operating performance deficiencies", and needs to develop "a viable business model’ as well as address "liquidity issues". It recommends that the college achieves a formal review of core governance processes, hold the leadership team to account and “engage fully with the current area review process and develop appropriate proposals”.

In November 2015, Hull College Group – in which Hull College operates – became the fifth FE college in England to be granted foundation degree awarding powers.

'Leadership and governance needs to improve'

In response to the FE commissioner’s report, a letter from Robert Halfon, minister for apprenticeships and skills, also published today, states: “Having read the FE commissioner’s report, it is clear to me that the board and staff of the college are both dedicated and hard-working, and I am pleased to see this reflected in the quality of your offer and provision for learners. However, the FE commissioner is concerned that the college has had significant failures in financial management. Leadership and governance needs to improve in this respect - both in capacity and in capability – in order to secure a sustained financial recovery within an acceptable timeframe.

A Hull College Group spokesperson said: "The corporation and leadership team is currently working with the FE commissioner to review the recommendations set out in the report and to put in place a comprehensive and effective action plan to secure the necessary improvement. We are unable to make any further comment at this time as we contribute to the assessment of the final financial recovery plan."

According to the University and College Union (UCU), Hull College's chair of governors, Pat Tomlinson, was "vague" about CEO Gary Warke's future at the college at a staff meeting today.

UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: ‘Staff at Hull College have been concerned about leadership failings at the college for some time and following the recent damning report from the FE commissioner, we feel the time has come for Mr Warke to stand down, enabling a new management team to start the process of recovery and focusing on supporting the hardworking and dedicated staff who teach and support students.

‘We hope that the serious problem of poor leadership and vision will be properly addressed and that Mr Warke will not be rewarded with a generous severance package should he leave. Hundreds of jobs have been lost at the college through redundancies already and the time has now come for the college to allow staff to focus on students without having to worry about the college’s future."

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Will Martin picture

Will Martin

Will is a junior reporter at TES

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