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MP Margot James slams Stourbridge College owners for 'over-expansion'

By Richard Guttridge | Stourbridge | Education | Published:

The MP for Stourbridge has criticised education bosses for pumping money into the town's college before deciding to close it - but said she was unlikely to join a campaign to try and save it.

Margot James said she was "very disappointed" with Birmingham Metropolitan College's (BMet) decision to shut the Hagley Road site but added she was not convinced the Dudley borough could sustain three main colleges.

The Government minister also told of her "regret" for backing BMet's takeover of Stourbridge College in 2013 following criticism from former Dudley Council leader Pete Lowe.

Ms James, a former governor at Stourbridge College, is due to hold talks with the principals of Dudley and Halesowen colleges about further education provision. Students affected by the Stourbridge closure will be moved to the borough's two other colleges.

She said: "I am very, very disappointed about it. When I left the board just before I was elected the college seemed to be in good shape. However, it was always up against it financially. I never suspected it would ever close but its financial situation was very tight.

"It's been a deeply upsetting experience and I am very concerned for families in my constituency who have young people studying there."

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Ms James initially supported the BMet takeover but she criticised its investment strategy over recent years.

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She said: "It became clear they over-expanded. I condemn the board of BMet for excessive expansion in that period that was unsustainable. That is what is really so appalling and the waste, if it is waste, we don't know yet what will happen to the site.

"There is a covenant that it is used for education purposes and one of my key goals is to get that position honoured."

Reluctant

Ms James said she was "reluctant to endorse" a campaign being spearheaded by Stourbridge Labour councillor Pete Lowe to try and keep the college open because she did not see how it was possible.

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She said she did not believe it was right "morally" to ignore the fact the population of young people in Dudley had fallen over recent years and that doing so would "mislead the public".

She added: "The only way to keep it open would be a combination of Halesowen and Dudley colleges deciding to do that and that decision rests with them.

"Although it's very tough on the students I don't think Halesowen and Dudley are in a position to maintain the Hagley Road site. That is my honest assessment but I am going to a meeting at Halesowen College where I will be meeting both principals."

Ms James added: "I have stated quite categorically I regret very much the decision I took in 2013 to back the BMet bid. I don't stand up as someone who gets everything right.

"It is all very well for Pete Lowe to criticise me but Stourbridge College had to merge with someone."

Richard Guttridge

By Richard Guttridge
Investigations Editor - @RichG_star

Investigations Editor for the Express & Star.

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