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College merger delayed as leaked papers question Newcastle College's commitment to the North east

2 November 2011 | last updated: 11 December 2015

UCU today welcomed the halting of a merger between Northumberland College and Newcastle College Group (NCG), but warned serious questions remained as leaked papers revealed the full extent of the problems behind the merger and NCG's plans.

The minister for further education, John Hayes, has confirmed that he is delaying approval for the merger and UCU asked that he urgently studied the damning dossier which:

  • raises serious questions about NCG's commitment to education in the north-east
  • said Ashington and Kirkley Hall campuses were be sold off, despite an independent report saying Kirkley Hall could be a success
  • warns all land-based training at Northumberland College faced the axe
  • accuses NCG of attempting to influence independent reports and ignoring the findings if it didn't like them
  • reveals staff are leaving Northumberland College and morale is low amongst those left behind.

The documents, presented to Northumberland College's governing body last week and seen by UCU, raise serious questions about NCG's commitment to the region. They ask whether NCG is 'committed to serving the educational and training needs of Northumberland, particularly in the Ashington Area, but also in the land-based sector which is incredibly important to the county and rural economy.'

The revelations come just months after NCG was caught up in a row over attempts to remove the word Newcastle from its title. More on the 'de-Geordiefication' story  

The dossier says that NCG intended to dispose of the Kirkley Hall and Ashington campuses and create a new college 'potentially without land-based provision' in the Cramlington area. It details how, in August, a report was commissioned by Northumberland College and NCG to explore potential options for the development of land-based provision and the development of the Kirkley Hall estate.

It says that it was clear 'NCG intended to dispose of the Kirkley Hall estate' and that 'numerous attempts were made to influence the outcome of this report.'

The document goes on to say that report's author was 'not influenced by [NCG's] behaviour and, as a result, the report identifies that Kirkley Hall has the potential to become a substantial player in the land-based sector.' However, it warns that 'despite this, the intention of NCG continues to involve the disposal of the campus.'

UCU regional official, Iain Owens: 'We are pleased that the merger has been delayed but we would now urge the minister to look at whether it should go ahead at all. These leaked documents raise serious questions about NCG's behaviour during the merger and suggest they have given little thought to the impact their plans will have on the needs of the region.

'Ashington and Kirkley Hall are vital to the local community and I should not be flogged off as part of NCG's plans to expand elsewhere. 300 local jobs could be at risk here and students need access to land-based training courses not provided elsewhere locally.'

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'NCG should be investing in the local community instead of axing training opportunities for people in two of the region's most deprived areas. This is just the latest in a long line of shoddy behaviour from NCG, who have a track record of sacking staff and slashing pay. It is small surprise that staff at Northumberland are choosing to leave before merger.'

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