Financial fears for Barnfield College

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Barnfield College has been placed into administered status after serious concerns about its financial management.

Skills Minister Anne Milton placed the college within the status following a recommendation by the Further Education Commissioner (FEC).

The FEC assessment – released last week – stated: “The college’s financial performance is a major cause for concern, with significant operating losses in 2015-16 and 2016-17 likely to be repeated in 2017-18.

“This has weakened the college’s balance sheet and eroded cash balances to the point where the college will need to sell land or secure commercial loans.”

The college was referred to the FEC following a decline in its financial health. The chairman of the college’s board of governors also resigned following the assessment.

In her letter to the Barnfield College Corporation, Skills Minister Anne Milton said the college will have to submit to a commissioner-led ‘Structure and Prospects Appraisal’ (SPA) to help identify a way forward. This process is expected to be completed by July 2018.

She added: “I expect the board to be actively engaged in the SPA in order to identify a future for Barnfield College which is sustainable.

“It is also important that whilst the SPA is taking place, the college continues to take the actions required to contain its operating losses and to meet the needs of learners by improving quality of provision.”

The college halted its recruitment of apprentices following a bruising Ofsted report last month, which criticised its provision of apprenticeships as “inadequate”.

A spokesman for Barnfield College said: “We accept and acknowledge the findings of the FE Commissioner’s recent report. We are working closely with the FE Commissioner’s Office and the ESFA to ensure we move forward swiftly and continue to provide the learners and communities of Luton with a high-quality learning provision.”

The college is currently in the midst of an “ambitious” £57m plan to move its two main campuses to a 1.8 acre site in Luton town centre, to be financed through asset sales, a local enterprise partnership grant and bridging loans.

A target date of completion of the move has been set for September 2021.

The present Barnfield team has been attempting to get back on an even keel after a string of concerns about the previous administration.

In 2007, the Barnfield Federation included a nursery, primary and secondary schools and also a college but serious whistleblowing allegations in August 2013 led to a joint investigation by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and Skills Funding Agency (SFA), as well as a Financial Notice to Improve and a Financial Notice of Concern and FE Commissioner (FEC) intervention.

Following the investigation and changes at the college, Barnfield returned to being a lone entity with a new board and came out of FEC intervention in September 2015.