College expansion plans threatened by a funding crisis have very little chance of going ahead – because almost all the money has been spent, it has emerged.
Bournville College’s ambitious plan to relocate to the former Rover factory in Longbridge is among those facing the axe. The move is the cornerstone of the site’s redevelopment, aimed at boosting skills in an area badly in need of economic revival.
It is one of 16 West Midlands schemes affected after the Learning and Skills Council approved 79 projects across the country costing £2.7 billion, when it had only £2.3 billion to spend.
But the head of a government inquiry into what went wrong has warned that there is no more cash available.
Sir Andrew Foster, a former Audit Commission chief executive, was asked to investigate the shambles by John Denham, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills.
College principals must wait several months to hear their fate while a new priority list is drawn up for the small pot of money still on offer. But, delivering his findings, Sir Andrew warned: “It is my understanding that almost all of the £2.3 billion has been spent.”
Asked if that meant the 79 projects in limbo had “very little chance of going ahead”, he replied: “That is definitely one way of putting it.”
Bournville has spent £4 million on drawing up its plans and designing the proposed new site. The importance of the project was highlighted by local MP Richard Burden (Lab Northfield) in the House of Commons, as he urged Ministers to ensure it went ahead.
He said: “A central plank of the regeneration of the Longbridge site in my part of Birmingham is the relocation of Bournville college to that site, with a state-of-the-art building whose construction will provide new jobs in the short term and new opportunities for quality skills training for generations coming through.
“That will be a visible catalyst to enable south-west Birmingham not simply to win through the current economic downturn but to deal with the continuing effects of the huge blow that local communities suffered in 2005 when MG Rover collapsed.”
Other schemes hit by the crisis include Sandwell College’s planned £85 million campus in West Bromwich and Sutton Coldfield College’s planned £42 million campus in Perry Barr, Birmingham.
Sir Andrew said the collapse of the college building programme was “predictable and probably avoidable”. There were warnings of problems as early as February last year but there was “delay and confusion” in addressing them.
While most of the blame lay with the Learning and Skills Council, the Government had also been slow to act, he said. “The responsibility of the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills was to determine and monitor the implementation of broad policy.
‘‘Effective implementation was the role of the Learning and Skills Council. “There were warnings of overheating as early as February 2008, but there was delay and confusion in addressing them.”