COLLEGE chiefs in East Lancashire have been told their merger bid will be supported with a £500,000 handout - if a business plan wins approval.

Plans are being progressed to combined Accrington and Rossendale College (AccRoss) with Nelson and Colne College and a public consultation was launched earlier this year.

Lancashire Enterprise Partnership received a funding request from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and Nelson and Colne College, towards the merger, under the umbrella of their government-backed Growth Deal programme.

But according to their minutes, the LEP’s Growth Deal board informed Dr Michele Lawty-Jones, director of the Lancashire Skills and Employment Hub, who presented a report with the funding request, that they had not seen a business case outlining the proposal’s aims.

Later the board agreed to support the proposal in principle, subject to an independent appraisal of their business case and it meeting certain Growth Deal delivery targets.

The board, at a County Hall meeting behind closed doors, resolved to release the £500,000 funding, subject to that being completed successfully.

Enterprise partnership members have also asked extra information from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy about the context for them providing such development funding.

Their resolution must now be passed at a meeting of the full board on November 6.

The two colleges have insisted that the merger will secure a “stronger financial future” for both institutions.

But Coun Myles Parkinson, leader of Hyndburn Council, is concerned that the move has been triggered by government pressure to make cuts and job losses may follow for staff.

One of his Labour party colleagues though, Coun Mohammed Iqbal, who sits on the board of Nelson and Colne, believed the deal represented a chance to improve educational attainment across East Lancashire.

Nelson and Colne College has cemented a reputation as one of the country’s leading further education campuses and has been rated among the top one per cent nationally.

AccRoss was rated as requiring improvement in 2016 amid concerns about qualification successes but bounced back and earlier this year secured a ‘good’ rating from the education watchdog Ofsted. The original plan for AccRoss, now abandoned, was to merge with Burnley College.