Harriett Baldwin speaks in the debate on the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill and calls on the Skills Minister to see if he can use the powers in the Bill to push back on Warwickshire College Group’s plans to close Malvern Hills College.
I, too, warmly welcome the Bill, with the emphasis it places on lifelong learning. Although 50% of people go to university, all of us will be working for something like 40 to 50 years, so it is very important that people have the opportunity to acquire new skills during their lifetime. I therefore join voices from across the House in whole-heartedly welcoming the direction of travel in the Bill.
I particularly welcome the Bill’s emphasis on place and local economic links, with links to local employers and a greater emphasis on local governance. My local schools with sixth forms will also welcome the Secretary of State’s announcement this evening of the extension of funding for certain courses to 2025. One local high school has written to me to emphasise that its students value taking courses in sport, business, travel and tourism, sound engineering and IT. This is, therefore, a very positive Bill.
I want to use my time to raise a local case, which the Minister was kind enough to discuss with me recently, where the direction of travel is completely wrong: the case of Malvern Hills College. It is a wonderful college, which has been in the town of Malvern for nearly 100 years. About five years ago, it was acquired by Warwickshire College Group. Warwick, of course, is quite a long way from Malvern. The group, which has a lot of disparate sites, took the unfortunate decision to close the college. The college has been going for nearly 100 years and is very valued by the local community. The community has put in place a covenant on the site, which is that it should be used for educational purposes only.
I urge the Minister, in his response, to see whether he can use the powers in the Bill to examine that very unfortunate decision and push back on Warwickshire College Group’s plans to close an institution that for nearly 100 years has been enhancing the skills, the lifetime learning and the life chances of people in Malvern. There will be a demonstration to show support for the college, and 5,000 signatures have already been added to the petition.