Beleaguered college faces closure

JAMES WATT College in Greenock is "technically insolvent", according to a consultative paper from the college management outlining plans for its financial recovery.

The board says it is unable to sign off the college's 2005-06 accounts or declare it a "going concern". The recovery plan says that pound;2.5 million in "annual cost excesses" will have to be wiped out and that there may have to be up to 48 redundancies if the college is to survive. Its debts stood at Pounds 6.8 million last July.

The management document by Graham Clark, the interim principal, which had not been officially released at the time of going to press, issues a stark warning that, if the recovery plan is not agreed by the end of February, "the implications of not meeting this timescale may be terminal and could result in the closure of the college".

The Scottish Funding Council piled on the pressure by giving the college two months to sort out its finances. Otherwise, "the council will have to give serious consideration as to whether it has sufficient confidence in the board of management's ability to secure the college as a going concern".

A report by the SFC's further education development directorate (FEDD), which has yet to be published, is believed to be a damning indictment of the college's leadership under Bill Wardle, the former principal. Professor Wardle, who has been on sick leave, has now been paid off with a year's salary and a contribution to his expenses, in the region of pound;130,000 - which has led to howls of protest from lecturers' leaders.

Dr Clark says in his report that his initial consultations with staff "projected an opinion that the college's financial problems are the consequence of ineffective management... Although it does not assign culpability, the style and language used in the FEDD report seems to indicate that its authors would concur with this view".

But the initial response from the Further Education Lecturers' Association of the Educational Institute of Scotland complains bitterly that its members are being punished for the mismanagement. "It's not a new strategy, nor is it one which requires much imagination on the part of its proponents," the FELA statement says.

"Professor Wardle leaves with a year's salary and a contribution towards his legal expenses. We face more redundancies, huge increases in workload, a diminution in the quality of the education we provide, and the prospect of instructorsassessors undermining our pay and conditions still further."

The redundancies involve slashing senior management posts from 19 to five.

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