Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Is Powys sustainable as a political entity?

I should begin by declaring that I have never believed the county of Powys to be a sustainable creature. It is too geographically large to deliver services and has too small of a population to deliver strategic vision. This is not a criticism of those who try to make 'Powys' work, but repetition of a long held view that the job can't be done. We've already seen areas of health care being hived off from Powys to other regions. Today has demonstrated the reality in spades with changes to delivery of further education..

Powys College and Neath Port Talbot College have announced today that they are to 'merge' next year. This is a very big deal, which will not be much of a 'Welsh' story - because its mid Wales. We only make the news if its a quirky story or its destruction by wind farms. Today's announcement is being portrayed as a 'merger' and I accept it may well be being approached in this spirit. But when one partner in a 'merger' is dominant in terms of size, it usually works out as more of a 'takeover'.

Should make clear that I'm not criticising what's happening. Since Powys Council decided to retain it's sixth forms (correctly) the writing was on the wall for Coleg Powys. Falling rolls means that its not sustainable to deliver further education on a discrete Powys basis. Had no idea what sort of arrangement would emerge, but knew something would have to happen. This is it. And no reason to think there's a better deal on the table anywhere else.

Of course it will be sold as much greater capacity to deliver range of courses and greater investment. But I've been around too long to take things as they might seem. OK, Brecon marches well with Neath Port Talbot - but Montgomeryshire....... We have more in common with North Wales. And I fully expect to see more students heading over the border to Shropshire.  And why not I ask myself! After all, what matters is the student experience. I wish the 'merger' well, and hope it delivers. But Powys Council's Education Cabinet Member will have to keep a very close eye on things.


Anonymous said...

Takeover or Merger ?
Coleg Powys has three main campuses Newtown, Brecon & Llandrindod. It has been running a variety of full and part-time courses in Ystradgynlais for a number if years. Neath Port Talbot college is just over 10 miles away, a merger between the the southern campuses at Brecon and Ystradgynlais could make some sense. But it does not make so much sense to keep the Newtown Campus within the merger arrangements. With a journey time from Newtown to Neath Port Talbot of over 2 hours it will be interesting to see what benefits there will be to the students, also what financial, managerial, staffing or other benefits there may be. In a rural community, it is often very difficult to sustain some of the less popular courses. It is usually the students who lose out because they have a narrower choice of courses, which in turn may mean that employers seeking people with specialist skills have to recruit from outside the area, or in some cases re-locate. It's a shame that the funding for education and training does not take more account of the rural issues.

Roy Norris said...

Perhaps the decision to retain 6th forms was the "wrong un". If this is the proximate cause of a merger which, if you are right, will result in the diminution of the the status of Coleg Powys. A similar thing has happened with the merging of the National Lottery Charities Board (Community Fund) into the Big Lottery Fund based in Cardiff where some of the quality jobs that were in Newtown have ended up (despite various promises to the contrary). Anonymous is right about the Ystradgynlais and (perhaps) the Brecon campuses.

But what is now the view of Powys CC if the "merger" is the result of their usual well thought out and far-sighted approach to any issue that comes their way. One thinks of waste disposal contracts as another case in point...