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A Christmas slay ride

Like pay settlements and money being returned by colleges to the Learning and Skills Council, even Mr Scrooge does business retrospectively I It seems fresh seeds of discontent have been planted among 11 humble lecturers who were made redundant at the Welsh College of Horticulture.

The axe fell on December 22. It was a particularly bitter pill to swallow because, earlier in the year, college governors had rejected a proposed merger with nearby Deeside College, which the University and College Union says would have guaranteed no compulsory redundancies.

Newly impoverished, they made the most of Christmas and no doubt some saw in the new year by drowning their sorrows in the bright lights of nearby Mold and Flint.

This week, though, any new year's resolution to put their misfortune behind them will have been severely tested.

The college paid some of them up to December 31, covering them for Christmas, despite the fact they were no longer on the payroll. But before they had the opportunity to show any gratitude, and smile with glee while twisting their caps with work-weary fingers, it turned out that the management's largesse was, in fact, an administrative error.

They have been told the cash is to be taken back when they get their redundancy payouts. The college insisted it is not clawing the money back, but simply correcting a mistake.

Mark Simkin, the principal, said: "Staff have been paid appropriately to the end of their employment.

"There are a few who did finish on December 22, which they had requested, and we conformed to that and paid them up to that date."

Among the overpaid was John Bell, the college's former key skills co-ordinator and a Conservative candidate in the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections.

When he opened his pay slip, he found the college had paid him for the Christmas period, but it had then taken over pound;500 from his final settlement.

Was he impressed by this rare example, in Blair's Britain, of saving taxpayer's money?

Not a bit of it.

"The college has been Scrooge-like," he said.

Sometimes you just can't please anyone.

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