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Union vows to fight closure of Newton Rigg College

Tim Whitaker, Chief Executive Officer and Principal, Askham Bryan College

Askham Bryan College’s Newton Rigg Campus in Cumbria is earmarked for closure in July 2021 after an independent review found the site is not financially viable.

The College’s governing body has decided to propose the closure of Newton Rigg after considering the findings of a Further Education Commissioner review of educational provision at the campus and in the wider area.

The closure proposal is subject to the outcome of a 45-day consultation process with 117 staff (79 full time equivalent roles) and the trade unions, which has started today – May 21st 2020.

The College will also be consulting individually with affected staff.

Students, parents and carers, applicants, employers, local MPs, civic leaders and community groups are being informed of the proposal, made on May 18th 2020, this week.

A final decision on whether or not the campus closes in July 2021 will be made following the completion of the statutory consultation in respect of College staff.

Tim Whitaker, Chief Executive Officer and Principal, Askham Bryan College, said: “We understand the strength of feeling about Newton Rigg and the fact this will be upsetting news to our staff, students and the local community.”

He explained: “This has been a very difficult decision. We regret putting staff at risk of redundancy. However, the review has confirmed that the campus is not financially viable from the College’s perspective and would require ongoing investment to keep pace with industry skills.

“Given the current economic climate, and the fact that no capital or revenue funding is available, we have no other option but to propose closing the facility in July 2021. We will do all we can to support our staff and students at this difficult time.”

Dr Neil Hudson MP for Penrith and The Border said: “This is hugely disappointing news for the students and staff of Newton Rigg. I have been and continue to work hard to secure a future for this valuable and important college. I have held meetings with stakeholders, ministers, the FE Commissioner’s Office and Askham Bryan.

“One small glimmer of light for us is that Askham Bryan have listened to my call for them to delay the implementation of their decision for as long as possible, and the fact that Newton Rigg will be open for business as normal this coming academic year gives us the window to implement a rescue plan.

“I will continue do my upmost to secure a viable future for Newton Rigg. It is so important to our rural economy, both in Cumbria and the wider UK.”

Cllr Virginia Taylor, leader of Eden District Council said: “Eden District Council is saddened to hear about Askham Bryan’s decision to close the Newton Rigg campus in 2021.  This decision will have come as a crushing disappointment to students and staff as well as those of us in Eden and the wider Cumbrian community.

“The Council is totally committed to working with partners throughout the county to develop a Cumbrian solution which can reflect the needs of future skills needed in agriculture and land-based technologies and explore higher-skilled jobs in emerging new technologies.”

The University and College Union (UCU) has vowed to fight the planned closure.

The closure of the college would see 117 job losses and be a “hammer blow” for the region.

The college wrote to staff this afternoon (Thursday) informing them of plans to close Newton Rigg at the end of the next academic year (31 July 2021). UCU said the decision would leave Cumbria without any specialist agricultural education.

UCU regional official Iain Owens said: “This is a hammer blow for the people of Penrith and Cumbria who rely on Newton Rigg to provide education for their young people. The closure would leave Cumbria – one of the most agriculturally-dependant counties in the country – without any specialist agricultural education. UCU will campaign to protect Newton Rigg College and to protect our members’ jobs.”

Lord Inglewood, CLEP Chair, said: “This is clearly very disappointing news, particularly for me personally as a former student at Newton Rigg. Here in Cumbria we see Newton Rigg as symbolic, given our land based industries and the importance of these to Cumbria and its economy. We are committed to finding an alternative future for Newton Rigg and are working with potential investors to explore opportunities to achieve this. Alongside this, lead Board members are working in partnership to identify what land-based provision is required, going forward. CLEP will do everything it can to secure a long term, sustainable future for Newton Rigg.”

Julie Mennell, CLEP Board Member and Vice Chancellor of the University of Cumbria, said: “As the anchor HE Institution in Cumbria we want to step forward and work with partners to develop a strategy for land-based provision in Cumbria. We in the University will provide leadership to support this aim, in collaboration with CLEP’s People, Employment and Skills Strategy Group (PESSG). The need for pace is understood as is the significance of addressing the long-term future of the land-based provision in our county.”

Mike Smith OBE, CLEP Board member and Chair of PESSG, added: “The provision provided by Newton Rigg is extremely important to Cumbria, recognising that we are in land terms the most agricultural county in the Country. It is counter-intuitive that we would not have land-based provision operating here in Cumbria. The members of PESSG are committed to working with colleagues in the University of Cumbria to develop a strategy for land-based provision and to discuss the delivery of this with any future investors and operators.”

Mary Robinson, CLEP Board Member and Chair of the Rural Sector Panel, went on to say: “The Rural Economy is a critical part of Cumbria’s overall economy both from the contribution that it makes to UK food supply and also its important contribution to creating the landscape that we all enjoy here in Cumbria. We in the rural community are determined that provision is maintained beyond 2021 and will be working with all interested parties to help to achieve this. Almost everybody in the rural community has had a family member or friend attend Newton Rigg and has a very strong affection and association for it. Going forward we need to preserve the essence and heritage at Newton Rigg, whilst at the same time responding to the new opportunities in agri-tech and wider new technologies.”

Learning planned for the next academic year, from September 2020 to July 2021, will commence as intended. Student recruitment and enrolment will also continue. All current and prospective students will be informed of the closure proposal.

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