College merger cost will outweigh savings, warn MSPs

Jewel and Esk College is one of the institutions set to merge. Picture: Esme Allen
Jewel and Esk College is one of the institutions set to merge. Picture: Esme Allen
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The cost of controversial mergers to Scotland’s colleges has spiralled to more than £50 million - and won’t be covered by planned savings in the coming years, MSPs have been warned.

It prompted fresh criticism of education secretary Mike Russell who has claimed that the merger savings will outweigh cuts to college budgets

Savings of about £51 million will be made over the next two years as part of the overhaul which will see many of the country’s colleges disappear - but it will cost £54 million to fund.

Scottish Funding Council chief Mark Batho revealed the figures in a letter to Holyrood’s Public Audit committee today.

The merger process has already been at the centre of controversy after Stow College chair Kirk Ramsay was forced to quit after a spat with education secretary Mike Russell over a recording of a meeting about the reforms.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP today hit out at the projected costs.

“To date, the Education Secretary has claimed that savings made through merging colleges would make up for his cuts to college budgets,” Mr McArthur said.

“Now the Scottish Funding Council has shot holes in Mr Russell’s assertion by admitting that even more money will be needed to allow mergers to take place in the coming years.

“Having had to apologise to Parliament for his misleading claims that college budgets were going up not down, it now appears that Mr Russell is at it again. Little wonder that confidence in his handling of this sector and these reforms is ebbing away.”

The mergers will see institutions like The Jewel and Esk, Stevenson and Telford colleges in the capital merged to create a new Edinburgh College.