How to turn a merger into a nice little earner

A newly-merged college in the West Midlands is set to cash in on its experience by offering two packages - one costing Pounds 6,000 - to other institutions considering marriage, writes Ngaio Crequer.

City College, Birmingham is a merger of Handsworth College and East Birmingham College which was approved in August. Tony Henry, the principal has written to colleagues in the sector offering two consultancy services. He has written: "As a college which has recently merged successfully we feel that there is a logically prior stage before getting involved in the detail...(We) would like to work with you on this very vital stage which covers: values; visions; philosophy and problem solving."

For Pounds 3,000 a college would be entitled to send six or seven colleagues and governors on an intensive two-day briefing, involving Mr Henry, chief executive Chris Webb, and education consultant Keith Scribbins. "Delegates would also be entitled to access all the documentation and materials of our merger. The package would involve an electronic 'midwifery' service with a rapid response to questions and problems for up to one month after the seminar. Further actual time with us would also be available."

But for Pounds 6,000 any college would get all of the above plus an escorted visit for two delegates to a college system in the United States. Urban colleges might wish to go to Chicago, shire colleges might prefer San Diego, in California.

Mr Webb said: "If you look at the history of mergers then the attrition rate between announcement and completion is high.

"We have done a good merger here and I think we have something to offer. I do not see a problem in one corporation offering consultation to another. We have learned some valuable lessons. Why cannot we offer a service just like Coopers Lybrand or KPMG?" He said two sets of colleges had approached them and another had asked them to tender.

But the college has admitted it was wrong to have a principal and chief executive as two separate persons.

The Department for Education and Employment has written to the college, and ruled that under the terms of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, the two terms refer to one person.

"We have acknowledged that we got it wrong," said Mr Webb. "We have turn-tailed. We are going to revisit the nomenclature."

A spokesperson for the Further Education Funding Council said: "We are supportive of colleges supporting good practice. We have no objection to their consultancy packages."

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