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Learning chiefs abandon fight

The LSC vowed it would battle to save 16-18 courses in Hemel Hempstead. But, to the dismay of thousands in the town, it has changed its mind. India Jolly reports

THE Learning and Skills Council did a remarkable U-turn last week over a Hertfordshire college's decision to scrap key courses at one of its campuses.

The management at West Herts college unveiled plans last month to shift all courses for 16 to 18-year-olds from the college's Dacorum campus in Hemel Hempstead to Watford - the college's main base - with up to 28 job losses.

There are also long-term plans to completely phase out non-vocational adult courses.

When the plans were first announced in May, the LSC vowed to do everything in its power - including cutting the college's funding - to make college bosses change their minds.

But, in an abrupt change of heart, it has now chosen to back the college's controversial decision.

Roy Bain, executive director of the LSC's Hertfordshire branch, said the council now accepted that the closure was necessary because of acute financial pressures.

He said: "We did express concern when we were first told about the proposals for Dacorum but the college is in significant financial difficulty and has to make savings.

"It has promised to act on the outcome of the full review we will be carrying out."

Hemel Hempstead's Labour MP Tony McWalter, who has spearheaded the campaign to stop the move, met with Margaret Hodge about the issue shortly before her move in the recent cabinet reshuffle. The then further education minister pledged to help reverse the decision and promised to look into whether she had the power to prevent courses being scrapped at the campus.

She also said Mr McWalter's suggestion of splitting the Dacorum campus away from the rest of the college and turning it back into a college in its own right would be legally possible. This would put it in the same situation as it was before it merged with three other local colleges in 1991.

On June 19, worried students from the college handed over a 2,500-signature petition to Mr McWalter at the House of Commons. He has presented it to Margaret Hodge's successor, Alan Johnson, and is discussing ways of safeguarding the future of courses in Hemel Hempstead.

Mr McWalter said: "It's vital for the community that we keep a vibrant college in Hemel Hempstead. The management is obviously thinking about its financial needs and not the students."

A college spokesman said: "We are pleased that the LSC is supporting us.We look forward to announcing shortly the details of new adult full-time and part-time courses at the Dacorum campus."

* Lack of specialist skills and poor quality of applicants are being blamed for a crisis in public-sector recruitment, according to a new survey. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says recruitment pressures have increased considerably during the past 12 months, despite the economic slowdown and wave of redundancies.

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