Croydon Council is to close the CALAT centre in Coulsdon, with job losses and hundreds of students affected, the latest evidence of Government austerity being applied across the borough with potentially profound and long-term damaging effects to the provision of public services.
CALAT is the award-winning Croydon Adult Learning And Training service, established more than 70 years ago and which is one of the largest adult education providers in the country which provides more than 1,200 part-time courses every year from – until now – centres at the Clock Tower, in Thornton Heath, New Addington and from the old Smitham School premises off Chipstead Valley Road in Coulsdon. CALAT offers courses in IT, business administration and book-keeping, teaching English to those for whom it is not their first language, and training for those with learning difficulties and disabilities.
It is instructive that the Labour-run council has opted to close the one CALAT centre in the largely Tory-voting south of the borough, though course provision at the remaining three centres may also be affected.
The penny-wise, pound-foolish closure of the Coulsdon centre, according to one senior council figure, is “austerity politics” which “just makes no sense as it damages the very educational means to promote economic growth”.
The news was sneaked out just before 5pm on a Friday – in the hope that no one would notice? – in a letter to councillors from someone working under the somewhat grandly titled “Director of Universal People Services”, services which are becoming a little less universal by the day.
The letter warns that further closures could be necessary, as a consequence of further Government cuts, some of which are anticipated in the autumn statement from Chancellor Gideon Osborne later this month.In her letter, Croydon Council’s Jane Doyle (for it is she), states: “I am writing to inform you about the proposed closure of the council’s Coulsdon CALAT centre next year. This is a move that has had to be made in response to recent government cutbacks by the Skills Funding Agency. These cuts have forced the council to make some tough decisions about the courses it currently offers in order to consolidate the service and make savings.
“In Croydon this amounts to a £600,000 reduction in our budget for the academic year 2015/16. There is no option open to us to make this level of saving without closing one of our four centres. We have also been alerted to expect further significant cuts over the next two years.
“The government’s announcement has received cross-party condemnation in Croydon and the council is working hard to minimise the impact of the changes on staff and learners alike.
“We will be able to transfer some provision from Coulsdon to the three other learning centres in Thornton Heath, New Addington and Croydon town centre. We have to ensure that funding priority subjects such as English and maths, apprenticeships and traineeships continue to be offered. However, some non-priority courses will have to reduce or cease.
The CALAT Coulsdon closure will at least allow the council to utilise the centre’s car park, in an effort to relieve the parking congestion local residents have had to endure for nearly six months, since the closure of the Lion Green car park in the summer. But few have ever managed to up-skill themselves into employability, or a better job, by using a parking space.
“Staff and others affected have been informed this week. Learners will be informed next week. It is possible that you will get representations from your constituents as people attend CALAT courses from across the borough.”
Andrew Pelling, now a Labour back-bench councillor for Waddon, but previously a senior Conservative councillor responsible for education in the borough, said, “I put CALAT into the old Smitham school, even painting the building with the then director of education.
“This withdrawal of community adult education from Coulsdon shows how the austerity politics of the government just makes no sense, as it damages the very educational means to promote economic growth and thus bring in more tax income to pay down debt.”
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