COLLEGE leaders have fiercely denied claims they are to sell off Northumberland campuses if a proposed merger goes ahead.
The University and College Union (UCU) says it has seen a damning dossier on the proposed merger of Northumberland College and Newcastle College Group (NCG) that shows the move will involve the disposal of both Kirkley Hall and Ashington campuses.
Representatives say there are further concerns that all land-based training at Northumberland College will face the axe.
And the union claims that a new college would be established in the Cramlington area, even though an independent report found that Kirkley Hall had become a substantial player in the land-based sector and could be a success.
UCU Regional Official Iain Owens said: “These leaked documents raise serious questions about NCG’s behaviour during the merger and suggest it has given little thought to the impact its plans will have on the needs of the region.
“Ashington and Kirkley Hall are vital to the local community and should not be flogged off as part of NCG’s plans to expand elsewhere. Three hundred local jobs could be at risk here and students need access to land-based training courses not provided elsewhere locally.”
But college chiefs have rubbished the claims, saying they are fully committed to the merger and education in Northumberland.
A spokeswoman for NCG said: “We are totally committed to the merger with Northumberland College.
“We have put in place an attractive investment package for the Ashington campus and to support the agricultural economy and Northumberland.
“We are taking legal advice as to whether we should take action against the trade union. We can reassure everyone that we are totally committed to our home region of the North East.”
She added: “We are investing over £77m in the North East over the next four years. We are building new educational facilities and improving those which need updating. We believe that the North East economy needs investment in skills to enable the region to retain and create new job opportunities.
“We regret that the trade union does not appear to take this major contribution to the North East seriously.
“We have written to the Secretary of State asking him to accelerate the approval of the merger so we can forge ahead with our plans to invest in Northumberland College and improve its facilities.”
A consultation on the merger plans carried out by the Skills Funding Agency earlier this year attracted 364 responses — its highest ever return for such an exercise. The proposal was opposed by 63 percent of respondents.