An MP has accused Askham Bryan of ‘asset stripping’ Newton Rigg in a brutal Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee hearing.
Askham Bryan management were grilled by Brent North MP Barry Gardiner, who questioned whether Newton Rigg was really financially unviable and how Askham Bryan had managed to dissolve a legal requirement which prevented the sell-off of the college and its lands.
Askham Bryan’s chief executive, Dr Tim Whitaker, denied the allegations of asset stripping, claiming it had invested over £4m worth of capital on the site.
But Mr Gardiner remained unconvinced.
He said: “In October 2019, the Further Education Commissioner’s report noted that Askham Bryan was, and I quote, ‘not in a sustainable position in the long-term’ and as far back as 2017-18 the Education and Skills Funding Agency asked Askham Bryan to be an early intervention for weak financial health.
“The Newton Rigg campus actually showed a £300,000 profit for the four years up to 2016, before the accounts were amalgamated in such a way that it was very difficult to disentangle what was Newton Rigg and what was Askham Bryam.
“So when was it decided at Askham Bryan that by running down Newton Rigg, it would be possible to take approximately £12m that originally belonged to Cumbria County Council, who gave it freely for land-based education in Cumbria into the future and use it to prop up a financially failing college, with no benefit to Cumbria at all?”
Dr Whitaker rejected the claim that Askham Bryan had ‘run down’ Newton Rigg.
“We went through a process where we managed and treated Newton Rigg in the same way as all of our campuses,” he said.
“We ensured the student experience was the best it possibly could be, the student outcomes were very good and we invested money.
“We undertook some detailed work with the Further Education Commissioner in the last 18 months which indicated a significant operating deficit position for Newton Rigg.”