West Cheshire College is refusing to comment on rumours its flagship science and technology campus in Chester - opened only in 2011 as part of a £65m redevelopment including an iconic building in Ellesmere Port - is to close with the loss of 79 jobs.

Following several hours’ of inquiries to the college’s Warrington based PR agents, principal and chief executive Nigel Davies would only say the troubled college, understood to be deeply in the red, would be ‘reviewing and reconfiguring our current estate’.

The college insists any decision will depend on the outcome of the review.

The iconic West Cheshire College building in Ellesmere Port
The iconic West Cheshire College building in Ellesmere Port

A late afternoon statement on behalf of the college said: “West Cheshire College has announced plans for the forthcoming year that will provide the foundations for a sustainable and effective college for the future, meeting the skills and training needs of both employers and local communities.

“The further education sector is going through a period of rapid transformation and colleges nationally and locally are facing unprecedented external funding cuts.

“In 2014/15 West Cheshire College’s core income from the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and Education Funding Agency (EFA) will be reduced by over £2m.

“In order for the college to maintain high quality, relevant training and education for individuals, communities and industry, the college is looking to make reductions in pay and non-pay expenditure.”

Mr Davies added:“As a college we are facing serious funding and financial challenges which we need to respond to.

“This will include reviewing and reconfiguring our current estate to ensure that our curriculum and facilities are aligned to the needs of our different markets enabling us to continue to provide a high quality service that meets the needs of employers and our local communities.” 

It is revealed that staff have been informed of a cross-college reduction of approximately 79 posts. The college statement continued: “The college is working hard with staff and recognised trade unions to mitigate job losses through offering voluntary severance and redundancy as well as ensuring redeployment opportunities are maximised.

“The college has now embarked on a consultation period with staff and recognised trade unions.

The Chronicle has been told the college is in the red by seven figures and changes will involve the withdrawal of loss making courses.

The bombshell comes hard on the heels of a short notice inspection by Ofsted which found the college, which has more than 15,000 students, requires improvement.

A previous inspection rated the college as ‘good’.

The Handbridge campus was redeveloped for science and technology in 2011 after a controversial and unsuccessful bid to relocate to the city centre.

In Ellesmere Port the college has developed an iconic building in the town centre which also opened in 2011.

Over the years campuses in Blacon and Capenhurst and at Greenbank, Eaton Road, have been closed.

Explaining the ambitious redevelopment plans, former principal Sara Mogel said at the time: “We wanted to move into Chester (city centre) so we were in walking distance of public transport.

“Chester had the opportunity to build something in the centre and they turned that opportunity down. Therefore it was a choice of nothing in Chester or doing it on this site (Handbridge) and we chose to do it on this site.

“We could have moved lock, stock and barrel to Ellesmere Port. The decision was made that the people of Chester deserved a further education college.”

She also insisted: “Our new campuses in both Ellesmere Port and Chester are designed to provide the best environment for vocational learning, so our students will be ready for the world of work when they leave college.”

Ms Mogel received an OBE for her services to vocational education in this year’s New Year’s Honours.

Ellesmere Port and Neston MP Andrew Miller (Lab) said of the town’s new campus: “It is a building that will inspire learning for people of all ages.

“The people of Ellesmere Port deserve the best and I am delighted that the college has been able to achieve its ambitions with the opening of this incredible new campus.”