Turner's dilemma as MPs get tough;FE Focus

26th February 1999 at 00:00
THE failure of Bilston is an embarrassment for Dennis Turner, MP for Wolverhampton south-east, vice-chair of the board of governors and chair of the parliamentary further education group.

Mr Turner, who was born in Bilston and educated at the college, once described it as "our beacon of hope" in times of unemployment. He joined the college board in 1967 and later spent eight years as chair of Wolverhampton's FE committee in the days before incorporation.

A staunch trade unionist - he organised his first strike aged 12 over more pay for choir boys at weddings - he was chairman of the committee that opposed the closure of Bilston steelworks in 1978.

In the introduction to a book by his friend, former principal Keith Wymer, he wrote of his hopes for the area. "Further education, locally accountable and democratically controlled, can play a leading part in the renewal and revitalisation of our community spirit and enterprise." Sadly, the reality did not match the rhetoric.

There were family links too. His son has worked there, and his brother Bert, a local Labour councillor, lists in the register of councillors' interests, the college's Springvale Co-operative, which runs a sports and leisure club. Dennis is an unpaid director of the co-operative.

Mr Turner has had close connections with the college for 32 years. Many other councillors have similar links. The register of interests shows that six serving Labour councillors have current or recent links with the colleges and affiliated companies.

Acting principal Alan Birks said: "Dennis Turner has been a very loyal supporter of the college. He loves Bilston and he loves the college. It is causing him some distress to see the state it is in. He is loath to abandon the college in its time of trouble but I suspect it might cause him some difficulty with his parliamentary colleagues because of the tough stance the Government is taking."

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