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Staff training centre may be sold

The future of the staff college for lecturers is in question under plans understood to have been drawn up by the Further Education Development Agency.

Senior FEDA officials are believed to be considering plans to sell off the quango's training centre outside Bristol in whole or in part, in order to rationalise the agency's sprawling property holdings.

Proposals due to go to FEDA's board later this month are thought to include the possible sale of a hotel in Blagdon, on the edge of the Mendip hills, which is at present used as a training centre for lecturers and principals.

The plans also include the possible sale of Coombe Lodge, a former stately home on the same West Country site. Possibilities include moving all FEDA staff to its site at Vauxhall, or a third London office. Maintaining Blagdon as FEDA's full headquarters is also being considered.

FEDA chief executive Stephen Crowne said: "The board will be considering the strategic development of FEDA, and the items will include accommodation. This is part of the ongoing development of FEDA which is part of a longer-term process - not a direct response to the inspection report.

"From the feedback we have received we are expecting a positive report based on FEDA's own assessment."

FEDA does have problems with accommodation, splitting its main operations between the two sites at Blagdon and two officers in central London. A leading FE consultant closely linked to the FEDA told The TES: "Many people say that if only Mr Crowne had a centralised operation rather than a distant empire, he would have reached his objectives sooner."

The restructuring plan is being drawn up in advance of a report due later this month by Further Education Funding Council inspectors which is expected to be critical of FEDA's operations.

When the FEDA was formed, with the closure of the Government-backed Further Education Unit and LEA-backed Staff College, it was agreed that operations in Blagdon would continue for at least two years.

But this has created a drain on resources as Mr Crowne has also had to maintain commitments to the Oxford Street Offices and an expensive lease on another site in Vauxhall - obtained by the Tories at the height of the property boom.

A report from a London consultancy, including an accommodation strategy was discussed by the FEDA finance and general purposes committee last week. It is understood to support the consolidation of operations on a single site.

Another senior FE source who has played a prominent role in the FEDA said: "There is talk of selling the Mendips building - a 48 double-bedroom hotel for around Pounds 350,000 to Pounds 400,000. That seems remarkably low to me but it may be because it is in a conservation area and development potential is limited."

A general consensus among FE people approached by The TES supports a rationalisation of accommodation. But it inevitably raised concerns about the future of jobs of staff.

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