CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

DEFENCE – WELBECK DEFENCE SIXTH FORM COLLEGE – 30 April 2019

[Nicky Morgan: ... As local MPs, we note, and are grateful, that my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis), the Chair of the Defence Committee – I am delighted to see him here – has written to the Ministry of Defence to ask if it is wise to

“shut down a means of creating graduates who have been working towards a service career from their mid-teens.”

He goes on to say

“we are very concerned that closure of Welbeck College risks sacrificing an existing – and productive – source of STEM graduates in the hope that a new and untried system will be more successful.”]

Dr Julian Lewis: Like my right hon. Friend, I, on behalf of the Defence Committee, received a number of representations from people involved with Welbeck who stressed the high quality of the service it provides. I cannot help wondering if part of the problem is that not all Welbeck graduates go into the armed services. Perhaps part of the solution is that part of the budget should be funded by some other Department to recognise the fact that there is an educational benefit that goes wider than just recruitment into the armed forces.

[Nicky Morgan: I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. He speaks with great expertise as Chair of the Defence Committee and makes an interesting point. If I were still Secretary of State for Education, I would be thinking about the impact on my budget, but he made two broader points. The first is about the positive impact of having more young people studying science, technology, engineering and maths in this country. Of course, if they are going to be part of our armed forces or the MOD civil service, that is a great thing for the country, but there are many other fantastic STEM-based jobs that will benefit this country too, and I suspect that many of those future employees have started life at Welbeck and been inspired there.

The second point is about how the decision was made, what alternatives were looked at and who was consulted. In his letter to the MOD, the Chair went on to say:

“Our understanding is that the staff and governors were not consulted on the College’s future and it does not seem obvious to us that the creation of SGIS requires the closure of the College”.​

He asked why the decision must lead to the closure of Welbeck, whether the change between the two schemes offers value for money, how closing the college will help UK defence

“in an increasingly competitive market for STEM graduates in the UK and globally”,

and whether the staff and governors of the college were consulted before the written statement, or whether they were informed of the decision without being able to influence the review. We look forward to reading the Government’s response to that letter, which I suspect, like all other Select Committee correspondence, will be published and made available to the public in due course.

He asked why the decision must lead to the closure of Welbeck, whether the change between the two schemes offers value for money, how closing the college will help UK defence

“in an increasingly competitive market for STEM graduates in the UK and globally”,

and whether the staff and governors of the college were consulted before the written statement, or whether they were informed of the decision without being able to influence the review. We look forward to reading the Government’s response to that letter, which I suspect, like all other Select Committee correspondence, will be published and made available to the public in due course. ... ]

* * *

Dr  Lewis: Can the Minister tell me how long it will take to determine whether the new scheme is a success? If it is found not to be a success, will it be too late to go back to a continuation of the college-based scheme?

[The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mark Lancaster): As I said in my earlier remarks, this is effectively a five-year transition. The intake to Welbeck this year will be going into a two-year programme, which will be the last. That will give us two years, as we move to a more undergraduate-focused scheme, to get the new scheme right according to single service requirements. The new scheme, which will run for a period of time, will also be under review. We have not leapt to this decision – anything but – and we hope that the transfer period will allow us to get it right.]