'Harrogate College has been a sleeping giant for too long'

President of Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce, Steve Scarre, wants control of Harrogate Town to return to Harrogate.
President of Harrogate and District Chamber of Commerce, Steve Scarre, wants control of Harrogate Town to return to Harrogate.

In a town which relies on the service sector and the tourist trade to a large extent, Harrogate College, the town’s prime institution for further education for young students and adult learners alike, by necessity has a key role to play, writes GRAHAM CHALMERS.

Currently run by Hull, in an era of constant restructuring for the college, so complicated has life become that meeting the interests of Harrogate and its economic needs has become a real challenge.

Few have plucked up the courage to tackle this headache full on - until now.

But below, the president of Harrogate District Chamber of Commerce, Steve Scarre explains in his own words why it’s high time Harrogate College was run by Harrogate for Harrogate.

"Harrogate College is currently part of the Hull College Group and is managed from Hull (some 70 miles from Harrogate) by a Chief Executive and a Senior Team – all based in Hull.

Many of the central services operate in Hull, such as accountancy, HR, estates, student records, security, canteen facilities, examinations, etc.

The Harrogate Modern Apprenticeship schemes and higher education programmes are also managed from Hull.

Harrogate does have its own principal, but his ‘strings’ are pulled from the centre.

The Hull College Group is in a financial mess and is currently being bailed out by the government.

One of the conditions of receiving this vast sum of money is that the governors, who all but one are based in Hull, must disaggregate Harrogate College from the group by the start of the 2019/20 academic year.

What does disaggregate mean? In simple terms (but it is anything but simple), it means that Harrogate College is up for sale. Who would wish to purchase our college?

There are many FE and HE institutions who would love to make this acquisition. Why has the FE Commissioner insisted that Harrogate should no longer be part of the Hull College Group?

Because Harrogate is too far from Hull to be managed properly? What next, then, for Harrogate College, its students, and staff? For around 20 years, Harrogate has been owned by firstly, Leeds Metropolitan University and currently, the Hull College Group. Both institutions are, or were, in their own right, fine educational establishments.

But certainly, in Hull’s case, they haven’t taken advantage of this jewel in the crown.

The LEP thankfully recently invested in the buildings, which has given the college a firm and modern base for the students and staff to enjoy.

However, it is what goes on within the walls that really matters. Hull have been too concerned about the financial contribution Harrogate makes to the centre and has ignored the opportunities to establish a real centre of excellence in the town.

Harrogate needs a place for students who wish to take the vocational route, and for those who wish to advance their knowledge at a later stage in their lives.

It offers a fantastic place to study; it is only 100 yards away from Hornbeam Park railway station, which is on the busy Leeds to York route. The campus is in an idyllic spot.

I appeal to the FE Commissioner to ensure that Harrogate College now starts to prosper, as it’s been a sleeping giant for too many years.

Don’t let it be sold off to another empire-building establishment to use for their own benefit.

Let it go to an organisation that cares for Harrogate, its businesses, and the local community. OR examine whether it could stand alone as an independent college with its own Board of

Governors, possibly in association with a local educational institution who is not 70 miles away.

This examination should consider future curriculum investment opportunities.

The government funding agencies believe that big is good, but that philosophy is becoming unstuck, with many large colleges suffering financially – small could be beautiful, if run by people who care.

What is happening to the college-owned land on the corner of the site, which used to be the old college sports field? Hull applied for planning permission to build houses on the site but was turned down some months ago. There is concern locally, however, about how it will end up. Why not keep it in the Harrogate portfolio for future expansion, possibly working with a developer in that respect?

Any sale proceeds should belong to Harrogate and not be lost in Hull’s bank account. It belongs to Harrogate and there it should stay.

Harrogate is ripe for curriculum development. For example, let’s establish an apprenticeship model that is the envy of the rest of the UK. Our country is crying out for a skilled workforce to compete globally.

We have been talking about this for years but haven’t made much progress. Let’s go for it, using Harrogate as a model, run by education specialists, but backed up by a local dedicated

Board of Governors, who can provide the expertise needed to run a large business. Principals used to be educationalists first and foremost, not accountants.

We could attract many more HE students to Harrogate, particularly those who have realised the importance of education later in life, and who want or need to combine their studies with day jobs.

Harrogate has so much to offer. Please, everyone, let’s not let this opportunity pass us by – again."