Fishermen bailed out
The Scottish Funding Council has announced that Banff and Buchan College will be able to continue such training, thanks to a pound;141,000 financial package to be supported by the industry and Aberdeenshire Council as well as the funding body.
The college had announced it would have to stop providing training to fishermen for skippers' and mates' qualifications because of falling demand. They are the only navigation courses for fishermen in a mainland college.
The deal will see the funding council provide an allocation of up to Pounds 84,000 from its strategic fund, which is intended to help colleges shift direction. The sum will allow Banff and Buchan to develop a more cost-effective way of training fishermen. Meanwhile, the local authority and the seafish industry have agreed to step in with the rest of the financial support to allow training to continue until the new courses are ready.
It was clear the funding council would not have put its name to the package if the industry itself had not put its money where its mouth was. This was evident from the comment by Roger McClure, the SFC chief executive, who said pointedly he was "pleased that fisheries training is supported by so many parties".
The downturn in student demand, stemming from the decline in the fisheries industry as it struggles to survive in the face of European conservation measures, had become a political issue. Alex Salmond, the SNP leader and local MP, had intervened to blast the funding council.
This in turn nourished ministerial sensitivities, not least from Ross Finnie, the fisheries minister, who said: "Given its significance as the only mainland provision of its type in the UK, I have been keeping a close watch on developments. I am greatly encouraged by the rapid response to the issue of funding these strategically important courses."
Robert Sinclair, the college's principal, had accused the funding council of failing to understand the importance of the fisheries industry, and said the threat to the courses was evidence of "structural underfunding".
The SFC, however, was able to underline the fact that Banff and Buchan was funded on the same basis as all other colleges and that, ironically, it had just secured one of the biggest increases in grant from the funding council, up by 10.8 per cent next session following a "remoteness" payment of Pounds 428,678 - the largest of any college.