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College merger comes one step closer

SHETLAND Islands Council is moving ahead with plans to merge the islands’ two further education colleges and Train Shetland into a single organisation.

The ‘New College Shetland’ could be operational by the start of the academic year in 2016, SIC change programme manager John Smith told the local authority’s education and families committee.

The move would cut out expensive duplication and potentially save hundreds of thousands of pounds, he said.

However management at the seafood industry-led NAFC Marine Centre has some serious reservations, although these were not voiced in the council chamber on Monday.

After declaring an interest, the head of the board of trustees that runs the NAFC, Shetland Central councillor Davie Sandison, left the meeting when the matter came up.

Councillors unanimously approved Smith’s recommendations, which has to be ratified by the full council next month.

The NAFC’s board of trustees is also expected to discuss its future next month.

Should an agreement in principle be reached by the end of May a partnership board to oversee the merger would be formed in June.

The partnership board will consist of the chairs and principals of each college, plus one additional member from each college board, as well as one staff member and one student representative from each college.

Addressing the committee Smith said that Shetland was too small to have three organisations handling adult, further and higher education.

Even after merging Shetland College, the NAFC and Train Shetland, the new body would still be one of the smallest colleges in Scotland, he said.

Councillors stressed that no final decision on the organisation had been taken, but all agreed that Smith’s proposals set out the way ahead.

Shetland West councillor Frank Robertson said: “This is about creating a financially sustainable organisation for a small population with no catchment area.”

Smith added that a lot a work still needed to be done and that some of his proposals were based on assumptions, such as saving more than half a million pounds in rent annually.

Both Shetland College and the NAFC premises are owned by SLAP, Shetland Charitable Trust’s property development company.

Smith said that he was working on the assumption that the building would be gifted to the new organisation, “something that has been done in other places”, but added that there was no guarantee this would happen.