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College lecturers' leader suspended

The general secretary of the largest college lecturers' union has been suspended for alleged inefficiency.

The decision to oust John Akker was agreed unanimously at the last national executive meeting of the lecturers' union NATFHE. He was accused of failing to provide a crucial report on the union's structure and finances.

Mr Akker was given the option of going quietly by taking early retirement or facing dismissal. It is understood that the deadline for his decision passed after The TES went to press. His future is to be discussed at a meeting of the NATFHE executive today.

The move adds to the chaos the union faces just one week before its annual conference in Scarborough. It is in the middle of fraught and unresolved pay negotiations and its membership is declining membership. It is also prey to poaching on all fronts from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, the Association of University Teachers and UNISON, the largest public-sector union.

Mr Akker has been out of favour with large elements of NATFHE since his attempts to modernise the union along new Labour lines. Critics and supporters alike say that faced with such a hopeless task, he lost favour with both old Labour and new Labour and was left with too few allies when accused of inefficiency.

There are bound to be suspicions of a vendetta after factions within the union failed to get him removed a year ago. He had been disciplined by the national executive for allegedly compromising the non-political stance of NATFHE by selectively inviting Labour and no other party to a meeting.

His suspension met with a cynical response from others in the sector. Peter Smith, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, dismissed it as a rerun of a sorry history of the union. Mr Akker is the third successive general secretary to be ousted or voted out of office.

Mr Smith said: "An organisation which does not want to be led will not be in any hurry to find a leader acceptable to it. But the real tragedy is for further education and the union movement. The Tories have been routed and a new education agenda is being shaped. NATFHE is in no position to help with that shaping."

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