Centralisation fear unites political foes;FE Focus

8th May 1998 at 01:00
Labour and Tory councillors have said a proposal to close a second site at a college within a year is a betrayal of the local community.

Wirral Metropolitan College has made a provisional decision to close its Carlett Park site in Eastham. It closed Withens Lane, Wallasey, last year. Its Borough Road campus will have its future reviewed in 2001. Critics fear that it will mean the college will be centralised in Birkenhead, and students in outlying areas will suffer.

The proposal comes amid renewed national fears that funding pressures will force colleges to close campuses.

Labour and Tory councillors on the borough council voted 55-7 against the closure. Mick Groves, the Labour chair of the education committee said the college had shown an "arrogant disregard of the need for local communities in the Wirral to have access to their own local FE provision".

Wirral South MP Ben Chapman is organising a petition against the proposal. He has called for the resignation of principal, Jenny Shackleton and the board.

Further opposition has come from the Wirral FE Action Group. A spokesman said: "We have 350,000 people in the Wirral, it is a very dispersed population but ever since incorporation they have wanted to centralise."

Ms Shackleton said the college was trying to modernise. But after the Further Education Funding Council hinted at the need for rationalisation and consolidation the college carried out an educational and financial appraisal. It then made the provisional decision to proceed with its long-term strategy and move out of Carlett Park and to build next door to its new business and management centre in central Birkenhead. "It is at the centre of road and rail links and we could put small neighbourhood colleges in south Wirral. It is better for everyone to travel to the centre, rather than through the centre and out, or round the periphery.

"The borough council has the view that the college should not really be managing itself and may find it hard to recognise that while the college consults, it has to protect its own interests. It seems to make sense to bring the college to the centre of the Wirral even if it is a bit uncomfortable." She said accounts for 199596 would be published in the next few weeks, and then it would be possible to say what the college deficit was.

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