A LEADING Buchan businessman has voiced serious concern and caution over proposals to merge two North-east colleges.
Conrad Ritchie, deputy managing director of Score Europe, said the recent news regarding the merger of Banff and Buchan College of Further Education and Aberdeen college had not been well received by Score Group plc, the largest employer of Modern Apprentices in Scotland.
Score have expressed great concern that the proposed merger which has been forced upon these institutions by the Scottish Government is not in the best interest of the North-east of Scotland.
Mr Ritchie told the Buchan Observer: “Centralisation of the Police Force and Fire Service is a reality and we are seeing the same smoke and mirror antics in relation to Scotland’s rural technical colleges. Funding has been cut in some cases up to 25% and this is hitting rural Scotland hard.”
He pointed out that it may be argued that this merger should not be viewed negatively as the two colleges have worked together for some time now and that it should be seen as an opportunity to create a joint institution that represents the North-east on the Scottish stage with a bigger voice.
Mr Ritchie continued: “Despite recent investment in the fabric of BBCFE the North-east consistently loses out to the bigger colleges and social issues of the central belt particularly Glasgow.
“However, the reality is evident - the students and the greater part of the local population did not wanted this to happen but there was no choice.
“Colleges who don’t follow the due merger process are being forced to do so at the viability of their colleges. The principals and management boards of these two establishments have done all they can to protect the long term future of their facilities and they should be congratulated for doing so, however the truth of the matter must be heard.
“Score Group is a lifelong supporter of BBCFE, we have a model here that work. Over the past 30 years Score have trained more than 500 engineering personnel to HNC/HND and some to degree levels all with the assistance of BBCFE.
“This facility must be safeguarded and maintained in the North-east to ensure local employers can deliver the high skill level required to run their operations in this area.”
Mr Ritchie also reminded that the student body at Banff and Buchan has voiced fear and concern that this merger will lead to the loss of jobs and courses in Fraserburgh, that some courses will transfer to Aberdeen and that there will be unnecessary additional cost and disruption to the lives of these youngsters many of who are already struggling to make ends meet.
He commented: “Score Group support this concern. More than 40 ago, Banff and Buchan College did not exist and many students had to endure personal hardship travelling back and forth to Aberdeen for up to four nights per week, obviously we have no desire to go back to those days.
“Over the past 30 years a very firm bond has developed between Banff and Buchan College and its supporters and now more than ever Score envisage further development of this bond through joint creation of the ‘BBCFE Alumni Foundation’ - a charitable body that has been set up by Score and the college to support students of the college now and for future generations.
“This Alumni will protect the foundations of a learning facility that plays an integral and vital part in the provision of further education throughout the North-east of Scotland. This foundation will offer local support only.
“We must look forward to the future with optimism and hope.
“The merger of these colleges is the first step by the Scottish Government to remove local control and that is detrimental to the long term future of a first class college with first class staff and management.”