TRADE unionists have reacted angrily to Blackburn College’s refusal to meet representatives over the planned closure of the college’s Trade Union Health and Safety Training Centre.

The decision to close the centre, the only one of its kind in the county, was announced in May and has provoked protests in response from local union members who say that working conditions along with health and safety standards are likely to suffer as a result.

The decision has also been challenged by the Trades Union Congress at national level as well as by Blackburn MP Kate Hollern and Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council leader Mohammed Khan.

Secretary of the Lancashire Association of Trades Councils Peter Billington said: “Who will speak up to protect workers’ safety, except trained and confident safety reps?

“Already too many workers have died because of failures in basic risk assessment.”

Union representatives also say that they sent a detailed letter outlining their concerns to the college management team and were outraged to receive only a very brief reply, along with a refusal to meet in person.

Mr Billington said: “We call on (principal) Dr Fazal Dad to publicly explain what is behind this reckless decision to deprive Lancashire workers of this vital resource.”

Workers representatives have pointed out that the ongoing coronavirus outbreak has only heightened the need for such training and that failing to provide this could endanger workers across the region.

They fear that the proposed closure indicates a wider culture of hostility to their organisations at the college and that the move is evidence of unfair treatment towards health and safety tutor Alan McShane, whose job in now under threat.

Blackburn TUC vice president John Murphy said: “The Blackburn Centre trains scores of reps who then protect the lives of employees.

“This is a slap in the face for Lancashire workers facing the threat of the covid virus!

“The fact that Dr Dad has failed to answer any of our questions shows that he cannot justify the closure.”

The impact the centre can have is illustrated by the case of Eve Chester, a National Association of Probation Officers health and safety representative based in Preston, who was trained by Mr Murphy and Mr McShane.

She said: “Their whole approach, style and personalities were great, they’re great tutors.

"Both really know their stuff and they know how to show the relevance of what they’re teaching.”

She added: “In this current scenario, why close the training centre? It just seems illogical.

“Blackburn in its past had a very positive attitude to education which is laudable, so you’d have thought they’d want to maintain that.”

The college has yet to comment publicly on the closure, while Mr Murphy says that trade unionists will continue to contest the plans.