Jim McColl denies delaying college
ONE of Scotland’s wealthiest businessmen has been accused of holding up his own ambitious plans for a new skills college for disaffected teenagers by failing to commit cash to the project.
Jim McColl, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of Clyde Blowers, had blamed “negative” bureaucrats after he was forced to postpone the opening of Newlands Junior College in Glasgow.
But Glasgow City Council said it had allocated £500,000 towards the project and said McColl’s “failure to commit” funding was the only reason the project had not already gone ahead.
A city council spokesman said: “The council has actively taken part in discussions with Mr McColl, the college sector and the Scottish Government.
“We have also agreed to fund the project with £100,000 every year for five years. However, more is required and, as yet, despite a number of meetings, Mr McColl has failed to commit to funding which would allow the college to run. When he does, we will be able to move ahead quickly.”
The row casts a shadow over the opening of the skills academy, which has the backing of the Scottish Government. McColl, Scotland’s fifth-richest man with an estimated worth of £1 billion, put back by a year the opening of the facility, which will offer courses in engineering and construction alongside traditional subjects.
The entrepreneur, who left school with three O Grades at 16 and was recently linked with Walter Smith’s bid to take control of Rangers, said the project would only work if it was a partnership between the public and private sectors.
He said he now had planning permission for a site in Cathcart in Glasgow’s Southside, but needed clarity on how the initiative would tie in with the school system.
“I’m a bit disappointed we could not get it going this year,” he said. “It’s a fact of life that dealing with bureaucracy in the public sector means there’s a lot more stops than there would be in the private sector.
“I think the public sector has to be involved in this. A different approach is needed in Scotland than south of the Border, where they have academies. It’s very important this is joint private and public. If it’s just private money then it’s easy to rush through with it, but it’s worth taking the time to get it right.
“It’s very important to connect it in with the school system and college system.
“I’m very confident that this will be a successful model which will be rolled out across Scotland. The Scottish Government is very positive – I have had a meeting with [education secretary] Mike Russell and he’s very positive about it and is supportive, as is Glasgow City Council.”
Asked whether he had held up the project by failing to commit funding, he said: “The issue which is causing delay is not, and never has been, about funding from any of the parties involved. Rather, it is about how the college will be structured – in particular will it be independent or will it be part of the existing education system?
“It should also be emphasised that I am not alone in believing in the thinking behind it, but represent a number of organisations in the private sector who are waiting on certain particulars being established before fully committing their support.
“But the bottom line is that we don’t know [the cost] until we get more detail on how it will be organised.”
Under the plans, 30 S3 pupils would be selected from ten secondary schools in the Southside of Glasgow to attend the college. It is expected that they would continue to study for Standard Grades, taking five subjects. There will also be a vocational strand, with students receiving classes in engineering and construction as well as life skills.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We very much welcome any innovation which leads to better opportunities for young people to develop their skills for work and have been in discussion with Mr McColl, Glasgow City Council and relevant Glasgow colleges in relation to how young people could benefit from this vision.”
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