Little to say

News Posted 27/06/19
A press conference that promised to shed some light on events surrounding the collapse of the ill-fated Hadlow Group was this week called off just days before it was due to take place.

A tight-lipped Mark Lumsdon-Taylor, who had been due to speak on “then… now… and the future”, would give no reason for the cancellation, blaming “matters outside of our control”.

Lumsdon-Taylor added in a brief text message that he didn’t think this was an “ideal” time for a story, frustrating those who are keen to hear his side of the tale of the group’s highly damaging collapse.

Five bidders are currently said to be looking to take over the operation of the group, which operates West Kent, Ashford College and Hadlow College. Hadlow became the first college in the country to be placed in educational administration earlier this year.

A decision on the group’s future was due to be made earlier this month but was delayed until 21 June to allow the Further Education Commissioner (FEC) to ask further questions of some of those looking to take it over.

A damning report published by the FEC in May said the board at Hadlow had “failed in its fiduciary duties and in so doing put the solvency and long-term financial sustainability of the college and its learners at risk.”

The report added: “There has been corporate failure of leadership, financial management and governance. Issues of poor communication and lack of transparency have mitigated against good governance and leadership and insufficient steps have been taken to avoid conflicts of interest at board and senior management level.”

The crisis came to light when principal Paul Hannan and deputy principal Mark Lumsdon-Taylor were suspended following the launch of an investigation by the FEC and the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) into the financial management of the group.

Lumsdon-Taylor, whose resignation had been announced in January and came into effect on 1 March, after the suspensions were announced, once boasted: “I do things differently”, and was not one to avoid the limelight.

Since his suspension, though, he has had little to say, promising to tell his side of the story at the press event due on 27 June but now ‘postponed’.

A brief note from his press spokesperson said simply that ”following advice of delays regarding the outcomes concerning the Hadlow Group, we are postponing this event in the best interests of the Group’s Students, Staff and Partners”. While the Hadlow Group confirmed that there had been a delay in announcing the result of the Structure and Prospects Appraisal being carried out by the FEC to assess restructuring options for its colleges, it remains unclear why that should have affected a press briefing on Lumsdon-Taylor’s future plans – a briefing with which the group was not involved.

A letter from Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills Anne Milton MP to Hadlow College’s chair of governors Andrew Baird after the FEC’s report into the debacle was released referred to the college’s “perilous position”.

She commented: “It is clear from the Commissioner’s report that the activity of previous leaders and governors at the college have led to a financial crisis that is still being fully understood.

“The crisis puts the college’s long-term future at risk and has the potential to adversely impact the education of learners. It is the Commissioner’s assessment that governance at the college has failed in overseeing the financial management of the college.

“There has been a lack of good communication and transparency from college leadership and insufficient steps have been taken to avoid conflicts of interest at board and senior management level.”

A college spokesman said: “We intend to work productively with all stakeholders to secure a sustainable future for Hadlow College and the continuation of specialist land-based provision within Kent.”

The FEC’s report also said: “A number of allegations are currently being investigated by the ESFA which further call into question fundamental aspects of governance and leadership.”

It said Hadlow College faced “significant financial challenges” and had “substantial debts which are at serious risk of default”, including “considerable sums” to West Kent and Ashford College.

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