Merton Adult Education Threatened With Cuts

Council needs to save £32m over the next four years

Merton's Adult Education service is threatened with cuts as part of council plans to save £32m over the next four years.

The council is to review the adult education service, including "alternative options" to deliver it, as part of a full review of all council services.

A statement from the council says: "While the council is fully committed to adult education and a continued service in the borough, reductions in Government funding means the council will now need to look at alternative options to deliver the service.

"All council services will be affected to some degree, driven by the overall need to find savings."

The final budget will be agreed at the annual budget meeting in March, with the council Cabinet pledging that children's services and social care for older people will have a lower level of cuts.

The budget process and timetable was discussed at a Cabinet meeting on Monday (October 20), and the council's scrutiny panels will later look in details at all options for savings. A report to review the future of adult education will come to Cabinet early in 2015.

It is understood that six options are being considered:

1. Merton Adult Education (MAE) continues as it currently is, with some changes in the service structure in order to meet budget reductions.

2. MAE forms a shared service otherwise known as a soft federation with South Thames College sharing back office and management functions.

3. MAE forms a shared service otherwise known as a soft federation with SCOLA sharing back office and management functions.

4. Merton closes the college and becomes a commissioner of adult education services.

5. Merton closes the college and becomes a commissioner of adult education services with Wandsworth.

6. Merton ceases delivering adult education returning the funding to the Skills Funding Agency.

Cabinet Deputy Leader, Councillor Mark Allison said: "In light of government cuts to our funding we are reviewing all our services to see whether they can offer improved value for money.  We are committed to continuing adult education in the borough but Merton Adult Education is being reviewed just like all our other services.

"We are looking at adult education services across London that deliver high quality courses but cost the tax payer less to see if there are ways we can improve our service.  When money is tight it's right to ask if traditional ways of doing things still work.

"The review won't be complete until the New Year and no decisions will be taken until then.  Residents know that times are hard but we are determined to continue to balance our budget and keep council tax low while protecting vital services to the most vulnerable."

Merton's Adult Education service is based at the Whatley Avenue centre, and its learning venues in SW19 are in the Marlborough Hall in Compton Road, Wimbledon, Merton Vision in Clarendon Road, Colliers Wood and the High Path Centre in South Wimbledon.

Shas Sheehan, Wimbledon's Lib Dem Parliamentary campaigner said the six options came on a single sheet of A4: I don't know about you but I think it is insulting on more than one level to introduce a subject such as this in so cavalier a manner. There is no mention of a consultation,” she said.

The sheet of paper ends with the line: "A final decision will be made in January 2015. It is difficult to pre-empt the outcome at this point however there will be opportunities for some staff to transfer under TUPE alongside the funding contract in relation to options 4 And 5. It is important to note any proposed changes will not be implemented until the new academic year August 2015."

She added: "Closing MAE, well used, well respected and praised by OFSTED would be short-sighted in the extreme.

On the one hand the council is closing services and withdrawing funding from charities because of its commitment to the Ageing Well programme to keep people fit and active for longer, and on the other it is contemplating cutting the very services that adults, with time on their hands, would wish to engage in. Where is the sense in that?"

She has set up a petition to protest against the plans at: Lib Dem petition. A Twitter account to fight potential cutbacks has also been set up - @Save_MAE.

Councillor James Holmes, Conservative Education Spokesman, said: "Labour are threatening the future of Merton Adult Education and considering selling off the land rather than working on a solution which will protect this service, bring down costs and benefit the local economy.

"Labour have not shared their proposals with opposition parties nor engaged in any cross party discussion or scrutiny. Instead they are cutting front line services, while sitting on millions in reserves.

"Conservatives have long been committed to providing life enhancing facilities for adults who want to better themselves.

"The future of Merton Adult Education should be innovative and exciting with community courses at its centre; creating life opportunities for residents at affordable rates. In order to subsidise courses for local residents MAE could provide professional training courses to local businesses, charged at commercial rates. A link with a local university would also enable residents to study for degrees through evening classes at Whatley Avenue."

What do you think? Why not comment on our forum?

October 22, 2014