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West and South Cheshire College merger leads to job losses

Mainly back-room staff affected but union claims it could also hit lecturers

West Cheshire College's Handbridge campus

Job losses will follow the recent merger of West and South Cheshire Colleges to create a new post-16 further education institution for the county.

The whole FE sector is struggling financially with mergers seen as a way of saving the service by cutting back-room costs.

But restructures inevitably means redundancies.

A college statement to The Chronicle revealed managers were consulting with staff over cost-saving measures. Numbers potentially at risk of redundancy have not been disclosed.

Unison North West regional organiser Maria Moss.

Unison regional organiser Maria Moss said: “It is likely to affect the back-office in the main but there may be some lecturers as well. It’s not good news but it’s nothing we didn’t expect.”

University and College Union (UCU) regional official Martyn Moss said: “The recent government review of further education colleges which included the merger of West Cheshire and South Cheshire Colleges was designed to lead to more financially stable, sustainable and resilient colleges.

"We will be scrutinising the basis for any proposed job cuts and will want to work with the college to avoid compulsory redundancies.

West Cheshire College's Handbridge campus

“We want to work with the new college to ensure that students in the area still have the opportunities they need to try and get on and contribute to the local and regional economy - job cuts and course closures at their local college need to be avoided.”

College spokeswoman Louise Lewis said in a statement: “The college is consulting with staff and trade unions on measures needed to maintain the long term financial security of the organisation and to ensure it provides a high quality offer for the people of the area.

“The merger has provided a secure future for further education in our communities. The new college will be a catalyst for innovation and consistent high quality provision, which will underpin the economic growth of our region. A comprehensive curriculum review has concluded that all existing curriculum in each of the three campuses will be maintained and enhanced.”

West Cheshire College in Ellesmere Port

Minutes from recent West Cheshire College board meetings forecast a £2m year-end deficit. Much of the deficit is understood to be ‘historic debt’ relating to the building of the two new campuses in both Ellesmere Port and Chester as government funding had only covered one new building.

It is believed the new college has applied for transitional funding and ‘some’ of the debt has been written off as part of the merger deal – which came into effect on March 31 – but this has not been confirmed.

The merger of West and South Cheshire colleges has created an organisation with an annual turnover of £40m, more than 11,000 students and 1,300 apprentices. The existing brands of West Cheshire College and South Cheshire College are retained along with campuses in Ellesmere Port, Chester and Crewe . The principal is Jasbir Dhesi, who was principal and chief executive of South Cheshire College.

Jasbir Dhesi, principal of West and South Cheshire colleges.

The original thinking 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 this is no longer happening.

In a completely separate move, Mid Cheshire and Warrington will merge with each other in August with job losses already announced equivalent to 90 full-time jobs or 20% of their combined workforce, according to the unions.

Unison and the UCU claim that had both colleges joined the Cheshire-wide college merger, they could have secured government funding under the national Area Review programme for FE colleges.

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