Wiltshire College has decided not to take on the outdoor education service Wiltshire Council has run at Braeside in Devizes – another Council scheme for saving money that has come partially unstuck.
In March 2018, Wiltshire Council declared that outdoor education in the county was ‘not a priority’. They prepared to close the centres at Oxenwood near Marlborough and Braeside in Devizes – aiming to raise money from the sale of both sites.
This would have deprived many local schools of affordable outdoor and activity courses for their students. Pressure from campaigners and opposition politicians and a local petition persuaded Wiltshire’s ruling Conservative councillors to look for alternative providers.
Oxenwood is being taken over by the Wiltshire and Swindon charity Community First and ‘negotiations are ongoing’. “Meanwhile”, Wiltshire Council announced in a press release on Friday (March 15), “the site remains open for activities and bookings.”
The press release also announced: ”Operational work at Braeside has also been extended and funded until December 2019 as negotiations on its future continue.” It is not quite clear why Wiltshire College decided to pull out from the Braeside deal, which Wiltshire Council had announced as though it was signed and sealed.
Wiltshire College planned to move the outdoor education centre from Devizes to its Lackham campus, it is obvious there were doubts at the College as to whether the move was a good idea. Minutes of November’s meeting of College governors – known as The Corporation – termed the move to Lackham ‘…this possibility…’.
The governors heard that among the questions the take over raised were: ”…additional safeguarding for younger children, the level of investment being offered the Council and importantly how the development would fit with the college’s curriculum strategy”.
That section of the minutes ended: ”It was acknowledged that there would need to be detailed discussions as to whether this should be pursued.”
Further details on internal discussions and the final decision are unavailable as the College website carries no minutes for the promised December meeting or for any 2019 meetings of the governors. It is not clear how wires became so crossed as to end in the cancellation of the arrangement to take on Braeside’s outdoor education.
Communication between Council and College should have been straightforward enough. Carlton Brand is a Corporate Director at Wiltshire Council, their director for Adult Social Services, Public Health & Protection, Legal & Democratic Services and Elections. He is also a governor of Wiltshire College.
Another College governor is Carolyn Godfrey, who was director of children’s services at Wiltshire Council until October 2017 – when she retired. She has been a governor since 2013.
The press release frames outdoor education in Wiltshire in a totally different way to the downbeat papers that accompanied the decision to close the service down: “Bookings for outdoor education activities at Braeside and Oxenwood are on the rise as negotiations on future of provision in the county continue.”
The press release makes no reference to the cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Laura Mayes, who led last year on the closure plans. But it quotes Wiltshire Council’s head of finance, Councillor Philip Whitehead: “We have a great deal of interest in continuing outdoor education in Wiltshire from a number of parties.”
“Although Wiltshire College withdrew, we have quickly taken up the process with the other bidders and we will be progressing with those. I anticipate announcing a preferred bidder soon.”
FOOTNOTE: The voting among the Conservative group of councillors to find the successor to Baroness Scott as the group’s leader – and thus leader of the Council – will be in a few weeks time.