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Editor's comment

Ivan Lewis, the adult skills minister, may well protest that he is fed up with FE calling itself the "Cinderella sector" but, he must surely agree, the annual pay negotiations and the subsequent battles over implementation are becoming as predictable as a Christmas pantomime.

Each year, the same characters, both good and bad, ugly and beautiful, (with the odd cast change following each Cabinet reshuffle) stagger onto stage with the same one-liners about hard-up lecturers, cash-strapped colleges and generous DfES funding.

So just how believable is the Association of Colleges's part in this drama? Its effectiveness has been proved in the wider arena of FE funding, where it has campaigned with considerable effect. When Alan Johnson, the now departed FE and HE minister, told colleges there was "no pouch of fairy dust" to cover the latest plea for money to cover 16-19, the AoC got to work.

With the association's very skilful lobbying, the DfES had managed to find the said pouch and out came the fairy dust - in the form of an extra pound;500 million to be spent over two years on 16 to 19s.

Not a bad return on colleges' AoC membership fees.

But the AoC is not convincing as a colleges' pay negotiation body, as is proved by the large number of institutions which have failed to implement the current two-year pay deal.

The negotiating machinery needs to be replaced with an independent pay review body of the kind which works for schoolteachers. The resulting settlements need to be "ring-fenced" so that the money reaches lecturers'

pay packets.

Colleges may feel this undermines what they regard as their right to make their own decisions. But so long as their income is from the taxpayers'

pocket, any such right is an illusion. It is ideological nonsense to live almost entirely at the expense of Treasury while at the same time demanding the freedoms of a private business.

Lecturers are public servants on the public pay roll. Their pay is, and always will be, a political issue for which the public will hold the Government responsible.

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