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Cheshire 'super college' on hold but mini merger is imminent

Cash-strapped West Cheshire College awaits ministerial approval for smaller scale merger

West Cheshire College's Handbridge campus

Plans for a ‘super college’ delivering post-16 further education in Cheshire and Warrington are on hold.

The Cheshire College would have resulted from a merger between West Cheshire College, South Cheshire College, Mid Cheshire College and Warrington Collegiate.

Now West and South Cheshire colleges will combine in a merger due to be approved next month – delayed from the original January target date.

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And in a completely separate move, Mid Cheshire and Warrington will merge in August.

But the prospect of a four-way college merger is no longer being contemplated.

The further education sector is struggling financially across the country which was the reason behind creating a ‘super college’ for Cheshire to cut costs and offer greater specialisation to respond to the needs of the regional economy.

Chairman of governors at West Cheshire College Christine Russell

West Cheshire College chair Christine Russell says these aims can still be achieved in the smaller scale merger with South Cheshire. And the deal can’t come a moment too soon as reports show West Cheshire is in considerable financial difficulty.

Minutes from recent board meetings talk of a £1.2m income shortfall, a forecast £2m year-end deficit and use of the phrase ‘qualified financial health’.

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Ms Russell said the West-South college merger application is in the ministerial ‘red box’ and a decision is 'imminent'.

She said: “I am confident we have been successful in jumping through all the financial hoops that have been put in front of us and we will end up with a solution that’s the best possible outcome for young people in West Cheshire.”

Ms Russell says the merger will be the saviour of West Cheshire College’s Handbridge campus which had been threatened with closure.

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West Cheshire College's Ellesmere Port campus

However, there would be some ‘repositioning’ around where courses were run between its Chester and Ellesmere Port campuses. “Business, retail and tourism would be better in Chester,” she said, by way of an example.

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Ms Russell said the £2m deficit was ‘historic debt’ relating to the building of the two new campuses as government funding had only covered one new building. But Ms Russell, former Labour MP for the City of Chester, is optimistic about the future.

“We will end up with a college that’s financially sustainable for the future,” she said.

Jasbir Dhesi, principal designate of the new college to replace West and South Cheshire colleges.

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The college mergers follow a review of post-16 further education provision across Cheshire and Warrington by the government’s FE commissioner Sir David Collins.

Jasbir Dhesi, who is principal and chief executive of South Cheshire College, has been announced as principal and chief executive designate of the combined South and West Cheshire college.

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