College building schemes put on hold

Rachael Tinniswood

Plans to rebuild three further education colleges in the region are under question after a blunder by government quango the Learning and Skills Council.

Approval in principle had been given to a total of 79 schemes across the country, including a £39.6m plan at King George V College in Southport, a £41m project at Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College, and a £44.3 scheme at Mid-Cheshire College, even though funds were running out.

Now plans have been shelved until at least 2011 – at which point Britain is expected to be in the middle of a tight squeeze on capital spending. Questions are now being raised as to whether the projects will ever actually go ahead, despite King George V College having already spent £2m on preparatory work.

Only two schemes in the region now look hopeful of actually being completed. A £32m plan at St Helens and a £65m project at West Cheshire were among 13 schemes proceeding to the next stage of development.

But as there is currently only £300m available to cover the £515m total cost of the 13 projects, these too will have to cut costs and look for funding elsewhere.

The LSC debacle was condemned as "avoidable" by an investigation earlier this year. A further £300m was subsequently found by the government to rescue some of the projects.

Regarding the 13 colleges which should see their plans go ahead, Kevin Brennan, skills minister, said: "Discussions between these colleges and the Learning and Skills Council will take place as a matter of urgency. All 13 colleges will receive funding only if the overall cost is reduced. The reductions required are significant, but manageable."

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