Merger opponents 'bulldozed'

7th April 2000 at 01:00
Rutland MP lambasts funding council officials dealing with a proposed college amalgamation. Ngaio Crequer reports

THE FURTHER Education Funding Council has been mauled in a House of Commons debate over the way it dealt with the merger of two colleges.

In the debate last week the council was accused of misleading ministers, acting perversely, and being deceitful over the way it handled the proposed merger of Leicestershire's Rutland College and Tresham, in Northamptonshire.

Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland and Melton, launched the attack and said he had never seen "such a blatant case of bureaucratic bulldozing".

Rutland, based in Oakham, the county town of Rutland, is essentially a sixth-form college for 16 to 19-year-olds, but with some adult students. It is popular but faces a shortfall of pound;100,000 next year or the year after.

Mr Duncan argued there was no educational sense in the merger. Last year only three students from the Rutland area went to Tresham - proving, he said, there was no natural link.

Merger with Stamford College, in Northamptonshire, was the logical option. Already, 200 full-time students travelled from Rutland to Stamford.

"Every interested party outside the college opposes the merger. Every secondary headteacher is opposed. School governors are opposed. Most parents are opposed. Nearby Stamford College is opposed. Rutland Council is opposed. I am opposed. (Quentin Davies) the MP for Grantham and Stamford is opposed.

"The whole world is against the merger, except the FEFC and Rutland College itself - and even the college is not unanimous."

He said that no doubt the funding council would assure the ministers that proper procedures had been followed.

"If the minister has been told that, he has been misled .. I was not born yesterday and I did not come down with the last shower of rain," said Mr Duncan, William Hague's former parliamentary political secretary.

"I am profoundly disturbed by the attitude of FEFC officials, who are so clearly bent on forcing the merger through that they have chosen to ignore all contrary points of view.

"With regret, I name Christine Frost (regional official) as one who has incurred the universal displeasure of all those who are opposed to the merger, her apparently unbending agenda amounts to questionable conduct."

He said it was "deceitful" for the funding council to claim it had made a fact-finding visit to Rutland County Council as part of its consultation. It had been billed as "a basic chat" and the two main councillors involved in the process were not even included.

He was backed up by Quentin Davies who said the procedure and consultation had been a travesty. It had been "extraordinarily unbusinesslike" to proceed without properly evaluating the alternative of a merger with Stamford.

Rutland Council is now considering invoking the process of judicial review. Stamford College has lodged a formal complaint.

Michael Wills, the education minister, assured the MPs that everything they had said would be considered when the decision was taken by the David Blunkett, the Education Secretary. Their concerns had been "well-noted".

A spokeswoman for the funding council said: "The council secretary has undertaken a review of procedures. This concluded that the FEFC has complied with statutory requirements and acted in accordance with published merger procedures.

"While the FEFC has decided to support the proposals the decision is with the Secretary of State, and is still with him at the moment."

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