New report shows how �1.5 million college deal with Fenland came close to being re-derailed

JUST how close Fenland District Council came to pulling out of a �1.5 million deal to help build a �7.2 million engineering block at the College of West Anglia in Wisbech can now be revealed.

Rory Robertshaw, a senior official in the children’s and young people’s services, admits that the “detailed negotiations between COWA and FDC to conclude their funding agreement have proved complex, putting at potential risk the FDC investment and therefore, the project as a whole.

“At the heart of FDC concerns given the relative scale of their investment, has been the need to secure and protect over the long term beneficial outcomes for Fenland from their investment in COWA”.

Even though Fenland Council approved the funding a year ago twice in recent months the Cabinet has excluded the press to agree to keep the project on course following concerns on two fronts.

Some councillors expressed concern about the preference seemingly being given to Wisbech (coincidentally an issue raised at full council last Thursday) but critical too were assurances needed that the college couldn’t renege on pledges to keep the centre open long term.

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College chiefs and council leaders – including Fenland Leader Alan Melton and council leader Nick Clarke- met at Shire Hall, Cambridge, to hammer out a final deal before officers were left to conclude the terms of the agreement.

Their proposals form the back drop to a report expected to be approved at county council Cabinet next Tuesday.

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Mr Robertshaw will tell Cabinet that failure to find agreement would have posed a significant risk to the county’s plans which are to support the new engineering skills centre, secure a new local HQ for the council, and provide Fenland with “vital economic and social outcomes.”

COWA is investing �35 million across its estate and has pledged �25 million itself, leaving other bodies to make up the shortfall.

Mr Robertshaw says the engineering block at Wisbech is important although it is “clearly not going to address the issue of the level of young people who are not in employment or education.

“However such an investment will provide new opportunities and make a key contribution to reducing those levels.”

Even engaging 10 young people each year, who would otherwise not find training or work, would deliver a significant financial benefit.

Cabinet will now be asked to approve legally binding guarantees to protect Fenland Council’s investment.

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