LECTURERS are calling for the teachers' pay initiative in colleges to be scrapped so the money can be used as part of the national pay deal being thrashed out with employers.
Natfhe, the lecturers' union, says there is too much variation in the way initiative funds are distributed within colleges.
The teachers' pay initiative (TPI), mimicking performance-related pay for schoolteachers, was seen as a stop-gap by some inside the union. It was widely regarded as a divisive scheme, but one which would at least improve the lot of some lecturers in the short-term. Parity with schoolteachers across the pay spectrum remained the longer-term prize.
But, with unions and employers deep into talks, and Natfhe's national industrial action suspended, the continued existence of TPI is seen as a distraction by the union.
It would prefer the scheme to be scrapped, and the money to be consolidated into colleges' core funding so that it will come within the scope of national negotiations.
Barry Lovejoy, head of Natfhe's colleges department, said: "There seems to be revived discussions about how good the teachers' pay initiative can be and how colleges may wish to control budgets using TPI.
"It could be getting in the way of a national settlement. Colleges use TPI differently. And some consolidate the funding while others don't. It is an anarchic system.
"We need a more rational pay system which does not exacerbate the competition between colleges. We need to put the money towards a proper pay structure. That does not mean you cannot still reward qualifications, or extra responsibilities at the top of the scale.
"The money could also be used to motivate part-time staff. At the moment, under TPI, it tends to leave them out of the picture.
"Staff look at it as pathetic and it leads to deeper cynicism rather than motivation."
TPI has performed shakily, even within what Natfhe would see as the scheme's narrow scope.
Further education was to get pound;65 million in TPI funding for 20012, pound;100m for 20023 and pound;135m for 20034.
Colleges were told that, however the money was distributed, each could rely on an increase of at least 25 per cent in TPI funding for the second and third years of the scheme. In the event, many found the amount they actually received was far less than they had budgeted for.
From Natfhe's point of view, the difficulties caused by the apparent unreliability of the Department for Education and Skills' funding pledges have been added to by the inconsistency with which TPI is operated by individual colleges.
The DfES is conducting its own survey to see how the scheme is being implemented around the country. Anecdotal evidence suggests there is a haphazard approach in some colleges, with line managers able to recommend individual staff without consultation.
In one college, the Natfhe branch heard from lecturers who found TPI payments had simply been added to their salary payments without any prior warning - either in a lump sum or spread throughout the year.
Even those who have benefited from these payments have complained to their branch that the handouts seem arbitrary and therefore potentially unfair, suggesting that, as a morale-booster, TPI could be counterproductive.
One full-time lecturer, who was given a pound;1,000 payment but still has not heard whether it will be repeated next year, said he knew of no examples of people getting TPI money purely for their performance as lecturers.
He said the money was being used to retain staff who were hard to replace because of their specialisms or as a way of rewarding those who take on management and administrative tasks.
The Association for College Management, many of whose members are closely involved in implementing TPI, says the scheme is a luxury FE can not afford in the current climate.
Peter Pendle, general secretary of the ACM, said: "We can understand the desire by some colleges to have local flexibility to reward staff through the TPI and the college pay initiative, for non-teaching staff.
"But at the moment the resources are not there to address salaries and these separate payments as well. We would like to see the funding going into salaries."