School maintenance: Manchester College's new campus delayed as project is scrutinised

4th September 2009 at 01:00
Work starts on 12 out of 13 Building Colleges for the Future schemes after millions are slashed off costs nationwide

Original paper headline: Manchester College's new campus delayed as project is scrutinised

Twelve colleges whose capital projects were finally approved are able to begin work this month after they successfully cut their bills by millions of pounds.

But The Manchester College's plans for its Wythenshawe campus have been further delayed with the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) saying it wants to finalise details to maximise the project's value for money and educational impact.

Both of these factors were already assessed in the prioritisation exercise, which concluded that just 13 projects should get approval for a share of the remaining pound;500 million of the capital programme.

Costs have had to be cut by an average pound;3.6 million per project. Some, such as Sandwell College in the West Midlands, which brought its bid down by pound;8 million to pound;77 million, have found even bigger savings.

The LSC said that it expected The Manchester College's plans, which were ranked joint-fifth out of more than 90 nationwide, to proceed "in the near future".

Peter Tavernor, principal of the college, said its recent merger with City College Manchester meant it was a special case that did not easily fit into the LSC's calculations.

"The simple formula that the LSC is applying to all colleges in the latest capital allocations was always going to be problematic for us, given the uniqueness of the newly merged institution," he said.

"The college hasn't yet produced its first set of merged annual accounts, but is already forecasting significant reinvestment in its property and infrastructure to ensure an improved learner experience."

Mr Tavernor said the college had grown faster than expected, with turnover for next year now predicted to be pound;184 million, pound;38 million more than forecast originally. That level of growth made capital spending essential, he said.

"I am confident that there will be a fair and equitable allocation of capital grant," he said. "I suppose patience will always be a virtue."

New campus

The LSC also revealed that one extra project was set to go forward for approval, despite the capital fund being spent: Skelmersdale amp; Ormskirk College's new pound;41 million campus in Lancashire.

"This is a separate case that was agreed before the recent prioritisation exercise and will be supported by funds within the budget settlement," a statement from the funding body said.

Geoff Russell, chief executive of the LSC, said: "This has been a tough and challenging process, but the Building Colleges for the Future programme is moving forward and today's announcement is proof of that.

"We continue to work with the Association of Colleges' task force to explore private finance options for those colleges that are not being funded. We will honour on our commitment to ensuring that no college runs into genuine financial difficulty as a result of decisions that have had to be made on capital funding."

However, colleges that have spent millions in preparation for construction projects are unlikely to be reimbursed.

Grimsby Institute of Further amp; Higher Education has already threatened a judicial review over the funding body's decision to put the cash into a small number of projects ahead of paying back the sunk costs of dozens of colleges.

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