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Flagship college to the rescue

So, after all the expectation around the private sector's flagship training provider, Carter and Carter, we now have the story few people would have predicted when the company was on the up (page 3). Instead of the business world showing colleges how it's done, we have a well- established further education institution coming to the rescue of Carter and Carter's trainees.

What matters - and what always mattered most to our readers - is the best interests of those trainees. It would seem that some of the training still being carried out while Carter and Carter was in administration will now be overseen by a worthy organisation.

Newcastle College is not just the biggest in the North East but also one of the best in the country. Its approach to expanding provision and its adventurous but well-targeted investment in new markets have won accolades from the business community as well as Ofsted. Its principal, Jackie Fisher, has nevertheless been a controversial figure.

The college has had an unhappy relationship with the University and College Union, with a number of strikes over new contracts. These have left the union less than enthusiastic about the college's expansion plans in the past, although this time it is welcoming the move.

However, there is broad agreement that colleges are a safer pair of hands for vocational training than the private sector. But it would be unfair to take the failure of one company as proof positive of the validity of this view. There is also some reluctance in FE to feel schadenfreude over the company's fate, which was precipitated by the death of the firm's founder, Phillip Carter, in a helicopter crash in May last year.

One lesson is this: private sector firms can make a contribution, but risk must be assessed before doing business with rapidly expanding entities dependent on bank finance secured on the basis of projected future income. In the end, there wasn't enough government-subsidised work to make those projections come true.

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