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Eight crucial questions,but no answers

The Association of Colleges this week told The TES that it could not fulfil pledges given by its chief executive Roger Ward to provide full registers of interests on the AOC and the former Colleges' Employers' Forum.

Mr Ward had said copies would be sent at the same time that they went out to the Commons Select Committee on education and employment.

But since his deputy, Sue Dutton, took over the reins of power, pending the results of the independent inquiry by Newcastle upon Tyne-based solicitor McKeag and Co, the association has withdrawn the offer.

Eight crucial questions are left open following Mr Ward's temporary departure. They were put to individuals and officials of the AOC over the past two weeks for a response, since the answers have implications wider that those concerning Mr Ward.

They were also faxed in full to the association this week.

1 Does a register of interests exist covering all senior staff of the AOC?

2 If a register does exist, why has it still not been made public two weeks after guarantees given to the select committee?

3 Is it true that senior staff at the AOC expressed a view contrary to that of the chief executive Roger Ward over the existence of a register of interests?

4 Does a register of interests including all AOC board members exist?

If so, when will it be made public?

5 Who is the company secretary responsible for maintaining the register of interests?

6 Since the AOC board felt it important to stress that the inquiry into Roger Ward was "independent", why were links between McKeag and Co and the board not made public?

7 At least three part-time teacher agencies claim to have been rebuffed by the AOC and its chief executive in their efforts to seek approval for college work. What reasons are given in the minutes to such meetings?

8 The TES sent a request for advice on the inquiry direct to the AOC chairman, Howard Phelps. This was passed directly to McKeag and Co. Can the board explain how a third party and subject of the inquiry came to be in possession of that information?

It was evident from a phone call from Roger Ward to The TES that he had received a copy of the solicitors' reply.

A spokesperson for the AOC gave the following official reply: "In my conversation with you on Monday December 8, I said that any further comment on the matter of the register of interests might prejudice the outcome of the investigation, and that the first duty of the association at this time was to that investigation and to the select committee, with whom we are continuing in correspondence.

"This remains the position of the association and as such it also applies to the questions you have faxed to us."

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