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College plans for The Public could force firms to leave town

A total of 29 companies employing some 120 people, as well as about 200 apprentices, face having to find new premises after proposals were unveiled to turn it into a sixth-form college.

The Public in West Bromwich

Companies based at community hub The Public have warned they will be lost to the Black Country forever if they are forced out by plans to turn it into a college.

A total of 29 companies employing some 120 people, as well as about 200 apprentices, face having to find new premises after proposals were unveiled to turn it into a sixth-form college.

Linda Saunders, managing director of Sandwell Arts Trust, which has been running The Public for the past four years, said many of these firms would be lost to the area forever, as it is a unique cluster of creative firms in the Black Country.

Two businesses based at the landmark West Bromwich building have said they are looking at premises out of the area.

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council said it was still in talks over the future of The Public and it would work to keep firms in the region.

Ms Saunders said the trust currently raises about £600,000 a year towards the operating costs of The Public, and that would be lost under the proposals for it to be taken over by Sandwell College.

Ms Saunders said: “In the time that we have been here we have secured 29 companies to come to the building.

“Now the college is going to take over the building, the businesses have got to come out. A number of these businesses are only in West Bromwich because of The Public – they are going to be lost to the Black Country area.”

The Public, which courted controversy when it was built after construction costs spiralled from £38 million to £72 million, has been run by the trust on behalf of the council for four years.

However, the council plans to invoke a break clause in the deal for a sixth form to accommodate 1,000 A-level and AS-level students.

Ms Saunders said that the college would not offer a better use of public money.

Currently Sandwell MBC pays about £1.4 million a year through a subsidy, with an additional £600,000 raised from the businesses based there.

She said that while this move would reduce the council’s bill, it would still mean £2 million a year coming from the public purse, but from education authorities instead.

She added: “We would argue that the decision to turn The Public into a college is not good use of public money, as it is no longer going to be accessible to the general public.

“The college has made it clear that it is only going to be accessible for students.”

Companies based at The Public would have to find a new home if the plans were given the go-ahead.

Sandwell College has said that while its ground floor would remain exhibition space, there would be no room for firms to be based there.

Bipin Patel, chief executive of IT firm Open Minds High Availability Solutions, said he relocated to The Public from Sutton Coldfield after being impressed with the building, but would likely return to Birmingham.

The company, which Mr Patel founded in 1990, employs six people at The Public.

He said: “As an IT company we will probably go somewhere like Birmingham Business Park. There is nothing else like this in West Bromwich.”

Ro Hands, managing director of LearnPlay Foundation added: “We moved to The Public specifically because we wanted to be in that building.

“We are in the creative world and a lot of our staff get to work with artists from up and down the country.

“We would lose a lot of staff by not being based there. Our staff put a lot into the local economy and if we were to have to move I do not know what we would do.”

Sandwell Council deputy leader councillor Mahboob Hussain said: “We are currently in negotiations with Sandwell College to take over the building but nothing has been finalised.

“We are aware of the concerns of the people who work at The Public and once the negotiations are finalised we will do everything possible to relocate these companies within the West Bromwich area.

“The running cost of the building would be a matter for the college should they decide to take the building.”

 

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