Engineering equipment to move from Hethel to the enterprise zone

A Norfolk businessman last night warned that high-level engineering training and apprenticeships could be hit by a cost-cutting move to switch specialist equipment based at the Hethel Engineering Centre (HEC) into a new training centre in the Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft enterprise zone.

The machinery, which is worth around �500,000, had been acquired by the Learning and Skills Centre at HEC over the three years.

In a money-saving measure, the equipment is to be moved to The Conge training facilities in Great Yarmouth tomorrow, which is run by Norfolk County Council, before it is relocated into the new training skills centre in the Beacon Innovation Park in Gorleston next summer.

But Richard Bridgeman, who chairs SEMTA – the sector skills council for science, manufacturing and technology and is also chairman of Thetford-based engineering firm Warren Services said that the decision to move the equipment was 'short-sighted'. He said that higher education provision and apprenticeships in the engineering sector could be restricted with the loss of the equipment from Hethel.

'Losing this machinery locally would make delivery of advanced engineering apprenticeships at level three, four and five difficult in this area,' said Mr Bridgeman. 'As Norfolk has over 1,500 engineering based businesses competing in a difficult marketplace this will be a significant issue for employers.

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'The equipment being at Hethel has meant that this area had the capability of training to higher levels to meet employer's advanced and future needs from a central location.'

But HEC director Simon Coward said that with funding cuts it could not continue what it was doing at the centre and if it had not moved the equipment HEC would have had to consider shutting down its learning and skills operation.

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He said the engineering centre would save between �60,000 and �80,000 and the move would allow it to focus on its primary goal of incu-bating start-up businesses and HEC's skills work will be incorporated into the mainstream education system.

'What we have found in the last year and in particular the last few months is there has been a real drop-off in usage (of the skills centre) because of the cuts that are being suffered by the primary and high schools,' Mr Coward said. 'We are going to be doing everything that we have been doing in Hethel. The real benefits are that we will be able to do a lot more because it's a bigger facility.'

The equipment will initially be used by local colleges around Great Yarmouth to train 14- to 18-year-olds, but it was hoped the scope of the training will grow beyond that.

The new training centre in Beacon Park will be run by a consortium of schools and colleges in Yarmouth.

'The problem with Hethel is that it doesn't have any public transport links,' he added. 'It is great for business because they can travel there by car, but for students they cannot get to Hethel, whereas they can get to Great Yarmouth and the new location in Gorleston. This isn't a Hethel and county council decision on its own. We have been consulting with students, businesses and Hethel tenants and learning providers.'

Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: 'We are keen to improve skills levels in Norfolk and Suffolk and welcome moves which will bring colleges and businesses closer together, particularly in the key sectors of engineering and energy.'

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