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Balance book battle looms

The balance sheets of the two leading college organisations are the latest battleground on the road to merger as both sides squabble over which is the wiser spender, writes Lucy Ward.

Details of both sets of accounts leaked to The TES will give colleges an early opportunity to see how the Colleges' Employers' Forum and the Association for Colleges used their subscriptions in their last financial year.

The financial state of the two organisations is particularly significant as both open their books in preparation for their planned rebirth in August as the Association of British Colleges.

The figures reveal the CEF's books showed a deficit of Pounds 337,374. That compared with a Pounds 78,232 surplus made in 1995 by the AFC. The association, which has a less ruthlessly businesslike image than the employers' body, will say the healthy figure shows good housekeeping.

However, CEF finance chiefs say the apparent overspend reflects a deliberate decision to reduce considerable cash reserves, which stood at Pounds 818, 000 in July 1994.

In a move accountants say was prompted by an awareness of colleges' cash-strapped plight, CEF subscriptions were frozen or even discounted, passing on some of the reserves to members. CEF membership has stayed healthy, though the forum frequently claims its counterpart has seen a decline.

The CEF defended spending Pounds 235,000 on meetings. Finance director Peter Brophy said large regional meetings were needed at the height of the contracts dispute.

He also played down the significance of an unsecured interest-free loan of Pounds 60,000 which books show was paid by CEF to its wholly-owned subsidiary CEF Recruitment Services Ltd, which ran a Pounds 34,000 deficit last year. The company, which was set up to provide services to members, had never been intended as a profit-making organisation. It had already made a small surplus this year, he added.

The accounts also show the CEF spent Pounds 400,000 on staff, while the AFC spent Pounds 285,000. CEF chief executive Roger Ward's salary was Pounds 79,000 - Pounds 20,000 more than AFC counterpart Ruth Gee. The CEF paid a Pounds 6,000 allowance to its chair, but the AFC made none.

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