Skelmersdale College warned 'beware of Newcastle College expansion'

23 November 2006 | last updated: 15 December 2015

UCU has expressed serious misgivings about territorial ambitions of Newcastle College (Newcastle-upon-Tyne) after Skelmersdale College's announcement yesterday that the governors of the ailing West Lancashire further education institution had chosen Newcastle College as their preferred partner in a merger.

UCU is challenging Skelmersdale college's failure to choose a local partner and wants to know how linking with a troubled college 180 miles away can benefit local people in Skelmersdale and Ormskirk.

The Skelmersdale governors' proposal will be presented to the Lancashire Learning And Skills Council (LSC) later this month. A period of consultation with stakeholders will follow. UCU will now urge constituency Members of Parliament and the executive director of the local LSC to insist on an independent technical review of the Skelmersdale governors' decision.

UCU regional official in the north-west, Colin Gledhill, said: 'There has been no independent, external assessment of what we understand were at least four competing bids. The obvious solution was to amalgamate with Knowsley, a neighbouring establishment with an equally high official reputation for excellence in programme management and delivery. There could have been sensible planning across adjoining territories to share staffing resources and avoid duplication of services.

'We shall be pressing the government's FE funding agency, the Learning And Skills Council (LSC), to investigate exactly how it can be of greater benefit to Skelmersdale and Ormskirk people to have their options determined in the north-east of England.

'The facts suggest that Newcastle's approach has more to do with empire-building than with commitment to the citizens of West Lancashire. Its principal Jackie Fisher makes no secret of the fact that she is simultaneously exploring mergers with Keighley College in West Yorkshire. Are we supposed to believe that she can turn round more than one financially struggling college at once - or is she hoping that if she makes lots of bids, at least one is bound to succeed?

'Finally, it is amazing that the Skelmersdale search committee failed to notice what the rest of the education world knows - that Jackie Fisher's regime at Newcastle has been characterised from the start by virtually continuous industrial unrest. Huge amounts of working and learning time have been lost through strike action as lecturers have reacted angrily to what they see as an unacceptably high-handed and aggressive management style. Staff morale is notoriously low. The last thing that learners and lecturers in West Lancashire need is for their futures to be determined by a troubled organisation one-hundred-and-sixty miles away.'

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