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Troubleshooters tout services to others

Top managers at a north-west college which survived a financial crisis are offering their services as a troubleshooting "hit squad" to other struggling institutions, writes Lucy Ward.

North Trafford College in Manchester is thought to be the first FE college in the country to publicise its willingness to loan out the expertise of senior staff - for a fee.

The concept was mooted by Sir William Stubbs, former chief executive of the Further Education Funding Council, on his departure from the FEFC last July. Sir William predicted increased sharing of recovery secrets within the sector, with financial incentives for the rescuing colleges, might prove a means of weathering inevitable funding storms.

Since then, crisis-hit Rotherham College of Arts and Technology has received a helping hand - for a reportedly modest sum - from managers at neighbouring Thomas Rotherham Sixth Form College.

Last week, De La Salle College in Salford, which is confronting possible closure amid dire financial problems according to governors, revealed it had brought in the deputy principal of another Roman Catholic college, in Leeds, to steer it until the new year.

North Trafford, which made redundancies equal to 25 full-time teaching posts last year to save Pounds 600,000 after missing targets, now says it is financially healthy with a Pounds 1 million surplus.

Spokesman Peter Riley said the college's experience of "severe financial difficulties" had prompted it to consider sharing its expertise. It was already in talks with one struggling college and inquiries were under way with another, he said. Managers would be prepared to work with institutions anywhere in the country, not only close to home.

North Trafford says it is offering a fully-customised service at whatever level a partner college requires, from diagnosing problems through solution-finding to hands-on help with improvements.

Curriculum, finance and staffing would all be covered, said Mr Riley. The college is not disclosing the fees it would charge for its services, though these are likely to be on a sliding scale.

A key obstacle to the rescue squad concept identified by many in the sector is the potential it leaves for a managerial vacuum at the troubleshooting college.

North Trafford insists any loaning of staff would have to win permission from its corporation and no activity detrimental to the college would be permitted. Managers would have to prove to governors that any absence would be covered for.

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