STOURBRIDGE MP Margot James says she has written to the FE Commissioner calling for greater transparency about the scale of debt racked up by Stourbridge College owners BMet which is believed to be in the region of £20million.

The Conservative MP wrote to and today met with Further Education Commissioner Richard Atkins CBE at the Department for Education highlighting concerns after meeting with staff and students last Friday at Stourbridge College which has been earmarked for closure this summer.

She told the Commissioner she wanted more information about the state of BMet’s finances “specifically the scale of the debt” – adding: “I understood it to be approximately £20m but staff at the college were under the impression that the actual figure was nearer to £80m.”

She has also asked for greater information about the financial position of Stourbridge College compared with other BMet owned institutions and she said there was a “desire for a transparent inquiry in to the historic decision making by the governing body of BMet that resulted in the unsustainable levels of debt that now require the sale of assets” and is calling for an inquiry via the National Audit Office.

The MP, a former governor of Stourbridge College, criticised the consultation undertaken by BMet as “woeful” and said when she met workers on Friday she “faced many staff who had not even been contacted by their line manager” and she added: “Such consultation has been confined largely to TUPE arrangements.”

She urged the Commissioner to seek a more open consultation “that considers the needs of individual teachers and support workers, together with students, as individuals rather than as a means by which debts are reduced”.

Ms James, Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, said as well as the 16 to 19-year-olds affected by the closure plan that she was also concerned about how adult learners wishing to upskill would be catered for in future.

She said: “If adults are in employment locally or have caring responsibilities it can be very difficult to factor in travel time to what is already a very busy schedule. I am concerned this will adversely affect the numbers of local workers who want to retrain and acquire new skills.”

The MP said she believes “there must continue to be a centre for vocational learning in Stourbridge” and although she highlighted a decline in the number of 16 to 18-year-olds locally and a fall in applications to Stourbridge College – she said: “We do need to consider future demand. ONS are forecasting an increase in the population of 16-18 year olds in the Dudley borough of 1,136 in the period from now until 2024.

“Although this projected increase doesn’t bring the population back to 2007 levels, it is none the less an increase of 10.6 per cent above the current position.”

She said she is due to meet with University and College Union (UCU) representatives tomorrow (Thursday May 23) and she added: “I know they are particularly concerned about the pace of change.”

BMet bosses have stressed the decision to close the Hagley Road college and transfer students to Dudley and Halesowen colleges had not been taken lightly and principal Cliff Hall has said it was in the “best interests” of learners.

Ms James, however, said the news had come “as a great shock to everyone affected and insufficient time has been allowed for consultation”.

Students staged a protest outside the college last Friday and Quarry Bank Labour councillor Chris Barnett has launched a petition on as part of efforts to try to save it.

A Save Stourbridge College meeting was also due to take place tonight (Wednesday) from 7pm at Stourbridge Town Hall.