Liverpool City Council writes off millions in closed Wirral college debt

Millions of pounds owed to Liverpool Council from a long-closed Wirral college have been written off.

It is more than 12 years since the doors closed for the final time at Burton Manor College in Neston – an adult education centre that was utilised by a number of public authorities including the city council and University of Liverpool. At the time of its closure, Liverpool Council was responsible for underwriting deficits owed by the college as part of its governance agreement.

Now, it has been confirmed the city has accepted it will not be able to recover more than £1.5m owed through payroll costs.

Originally owned by Henry Neville Gladstone, third son of former Prime Minister William Gladstone, Burton Manor College opened in 1948 and offered courses ranging from photography to literature, music and dance, at evenings and on residential weekends. Its establishment involved a number of public authorities, including Wirral Council, Cheshire, Lancashire, the University of Liverpool and Liverpool Council.

After racking up debts amid low take up of courses, the college closed in 2011. This was expedited after the city council indicated it would cut its budget by half over a two-year period.

Documents released by Liverpool Council have confirmed that it will no longer attempt to pursue six-figure sums owed through the college after its cabinet agreed last month to write off historic debt. During the time the site operated, the city council acted as payroll provider.

A cabinet report, to be discussed at the city’s education, skills and employment scrutiny committee next month, said, “The college closed in March 2011, owing at that point cumulative debt of £1.581m. Under the governance agreement for the college, the council was responsible for underwriting such deficits, so recorded the cumulative deficit as an outstanding debt from the college but matched by a 100% bad debt provision; however, the debt was not formally written off by the Council at that point.”

As the college has been shut for 12 years, the debt is seen as no longer recoverable. The report added, “There is no net impact to the Council’s financial position in 2023/24 as 100% bad debt provision has previously been provided for this debt.”

The total number of people who took courses at Burton Manor was 2,190, of which only 7% were from Liverpool. In the years before it closed, the site developed a base for cottage industries in collaboration with the University of Chester and won a lottery grant to revamp its historic greenhouses.

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