Jobs at risk in takeover plan for Hadlow College and West Kent

THE future of staff at the Hadlow Group and a plethora of businesses connected with it, hangs in the balance after the Further Education Commissioner [FEC] recommended that the group should be split up and handed over to other education providers.


A tendering process had been set up for bidders to take on the various strands of the group, which employs 1,400 people and teaches more than 10,000 students overall.


The Tonbridge area faces upheaval after the FEC, Richard Atkins, said that Hadlow College and West Kent in Brook Street should be run by North Kent College.


Hadlow College, which has 2,089 students, became the first in the country to go into educational administration in May after Mr Atkins found that it had ‘completely run out of money’. 


The intervention came after the departure and subsequent dismissal of the principal, Paul Hannan and his deputy Mark Lumsdon-Taylor amid an investigation into financial irregularities.


Paul Dubrow, chair of the board governing West Kent and its sister college in Ashford, has also stood down.


Three administrators from accountancy firm BDO are probing the accounts while also protecting the students by trying to ensure that the money problems do not affect the provision of courses.


West Kent is not subject to the same stringent conditions, but the FEC had already announced a notice of concern for financial health.

The group is also being investigated by the Education and Skills Funding Agency [ESFA] over money for apprenticeship schemes which it says the body was not entitled to claim. 


The Commissioner has called for North Kent College to take over the bulk of Hadlow College’s widespread concerns, including Princess Christian’s Farm in Hildenborough and a site in Greenwich.


North Kent College already has a significant presence in the London borough, holding partner status with the University of Greenwich.

This includes the Greenwich Maritime Institute and the National Sea Training School. There is also a large campus in Dartford, while Gravesend Technical College is an original element.


With around 2,000 students and more than 300 staff, it has an annual turnover of £25million, and the ESFA has described its financial condition as ‘good’. 


Mr Atkins also recommended that Ashford College and Hadlow’s site in Canterbury, which deals with animal management, should be taken over by the East Kent College [EKC] Group.


EKC was created after the merger of East Kent and Canterbury College last year, and employs more than 1,000 people and has an annual income of £55million.


The FEC gave Canterbury College a notice of concern for financial health in 2016 before the merger took place. 


And the Commissioner identified Capel Manor, a land-based college with its main base at Enfield, to take over another of Hadlow College’s animal management sites at Mottingham near Bromley.


Last year’s accounts showed that it had an income of £13.5million, more than 250 staff and an ESFA financial health score of ‘outstanding’.


The Hadlow Group responded to the FEC’s recommendations with a statement saying: “The Education Administrators in respect to Hadlow College and the West Kent and Ashford College board will now consider these recommendations.


“Staff have been informed and will be made aware of relevant decisions and, where appropriate, will be kept informed over the summer.”


It added: “The colleges are undertaking a series of staff update sessions around the campuses/sites this week where staff can raise any questions or issues of concern.


North Kent College said: “Following a robust process the FE Commissioner has now made his recommendations to help solve the challenges at Hadlow College and West Kent and Ashford College.


“The recommendations follow a procedure which saw a range of providers develop bids for either whole, or constituent parts, of both Hadlow College and West Kent and Ashford College.


“The leadership teams of Capel Manor College, EKC Group and North Kent College will now undertake the due diligence required.”


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