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West Cheshire College has today merged with South Cheshire College

Merger aims to save money while allowing greater specialisation at individual colleges

West Cheshire College's Handbridge campus

West Cheshire College and South Cheshire College have today (March 31) formally merged to create a new post-16 further education college for Cheshire.

The FE sector is struggling financially with mergers seen as a way of saving back-room costs while allowing greater specialisation to create genuine centres of expertise in response to the needs of the regional economy.

A spokeswoman said: “The newly formed college, which will have an annual turnover of £40m with more than 11,000 students and 1,300 apprentices, will retain the existing brands of South Cheshire College and West Cheshire College at its campuses in Crewe, Ellesmere Port and Chester."

The West Cheshire College Ellesmere Port campus building

The original idea was for a four-way college merger to create ‘The Cheshire College’ which would also have involved Mid Cheshire College in Northwich and Warrington Collegiate but is no longer happening.

In a completely separate move, Mid Cheshire and Warrington will merge with each other in August.

West Cheshire College chair Christine Russell hopes efficiencies 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.

Chairman of governors at West Cheshire College Christine Russell

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’.

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

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.

And documents suggest there will be remodelling of buildings including the Ellesmere Port site and the relocation of motor vehicle provision from Handbridge to Ellesmere Port.

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.

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

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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