THE merger of two Southampton colleges is to be delayed due to the pandemic.

Southampton City College and Itchen Sixth Form College, in Middle Road, Bitterne are now set to merge in summer 2021, it has been revealed.

The move would affect more than 6,000 students.

The news comes as the public was expected to be consulted on the proposals this spring with a merger planned for later this year.

But the plans have been pushed back due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Sarah Stannard, principal at Southampton City College, in St Mary Street, said: “Both colleges are committed to merging but have had to prioritise responding to the outbreak.

“City College and Itchen College are now planning for a merger in the summer of 2021.

“A consultation on this would start no later than four months before the merger. But could take place sooner.

“Timing of the consultation will depend on progress and on the impact of coronavirus and on how soon daily life returns to a more normal position.”

As previously reported, earlier this year City College, was asked to work with education bosses on finding a solution “to inadequate financial health”.

But Ms Stannard has now confirmed that the college’s financial position this academic year is secure and stressed that the Department for Education (DfE) is providing financial support and "understands what is required to achieve the completion of a sustainable further education solution for Southampton".

She added: “Covid-19 has had a small negative impact on our income but we can manage this.

“We are very fortunate that we are not suffering the big falls in income some educational institutions are.”

Alex Scott, principal at Itchen College, also confirmed that plans for the merger are ongoing.Itchen and its governors remain committed to developing the proposal to secure educational choice in the city."

As reported, plans for a merger of the two colleges with Richard Taunton Sixth Form were unveiled last year.

When asked when a merger of the three colleges would happen Liz Lee, head of college at Richard Taunton, said: "We look forward to working closely with the new college to better serve young people.There may come a time when this can be best achieved by Richard Taunton joining the new college but there are no active plans for that being considered currently." Southampton Itchen MP Royston Smith said:"We have had too many false starts and I am optimistic that we will this time see a merger through to conclusion."

A DfE spokesperson said the government will continue to work to "achieve a sustainable solution for Further Education in the city.”

Cllr Darren Paffey, Cabinet Member for Aspiration, Children and Lifelong Learning at Southampton City Council, said: “The council is supportive of the merger and we’ll continue working with both colleges and national government to help bring the plans to fruition."