More Chance To Comment On Controversial Education Options

Council considering commissioning another learning provider

There are two more weeks to comment over Merton Council's controversial proposals for adult education in the borough.

The preferred option of the council's cabinet is to commission another learning provider to continue to provide adult education in Merton.

It says it is considering this option as it needs to find £32m in savings during the next four years.

Other options being considered - but which are not the cabinet's "preferred" option - are:

1. Continue the service as it currently is.

2. Form a shared service with South Thames College.

3. Form a shared service with another local authority-managed college.

4. Join with the London Borough of Wandsworth to commission another learning provider to provide adult learning courses in the borough.

The consultation started on in November and will now continue until January 17. Residents are encouraged to complete the online consultation. Paper copies will be available in Merton's libraries, adult education sites and in other prominent locations later this month.

All contributions to this consultation will be fed into a report on the findings of the consultation which will go to the January cabinet for a decision. No decision will be made until the consultation has concluded and Cabinet has considered the opinions of the respondents.

Merton Council cabinet member for education Councillor Martin Whelton said: "We are going through tough times as we need to make savings of £32m over the next four years. We need to ensure tax payers in Merton are getting value for money for the services we provide and we need to find new ways of delivering our services.

"We're committed to continuing adult learning in the borough, but there will inevitably be changes to the way it is delivered. As a cabinet, we have agreed that children's services and adult social care should bear less of a share of the cuts to funding. If we just carry on as we are, and steer away from these difficult decisions, other vital services will be affected. We welcome people's ideas about new and innovative ways in which we could deliver financially resilient adult learning in the future."

He added today: "A number of residents asked us to extend the deadline as the consultation falls over Christmas and New Year. In light of their concerns I have asked officers to extend the deadline by two weeks to ensure that everyone's voice can be heard. We have already received a large number of responses, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in the service to complete a consultation form so Cabinet can make a full and informed decision in February."

But Conservative Education spokesman James Holmes said in a letter to the cabinet: "I note that it is not proposed that the service be discontinued and this is welcome. The report sets out as the background a requirement by the Council to find £32m of savings over the next four years. Putting aside whether this figure is accurate, I am concerned that the wider issue is whether the whole premise of the proposed consultation is correct.

"It appears that MAE not only breaks even but produces a surplus of up to £124,000 for the Council as set out in the service plan which is a public document. This document suggests that the service meets it own overheads and also makes a significant contribution to the central corporate overhead. I would urge that this matter is fully and properly investigated before instigating a consultation."

After the meeting he added: "The subsidy the Council pays for MAE is more than offset by the contribution that the College makes to council overheads. We urged Labour to address this point but it was ignored. We made concrete suggestions that will protect services and jobs but these were brushed aside.

"If there is a doubt whether any money will be saved, I am left wondering what Labour’s real agenda is here. For no clear reason Labour are putting at risk a vital service for over 5,000 people. We are fighting to protect this service."

Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond has raised a number of issues with local Labour councillors over the future of adult education.

December 19, 2014