Election time alarm

It's quicker than email or text. So word was out at the old Natfhe London HQ in Britannia Street last Friday that the fire alarm would be struck if Roger Kline, their candidate for UCU general secretary, won the ballot.

"If it's Sally Hunt (AUT's candidate), there'll be a bomb alert," said one official.

In the event, it was gloomy silence as a depressed line of staff, officers and union members were seen streaming up the road to the Lucas Arms pub, the decades-old centre of cabals and late-night plots.

"Most ex-Natfhe staff prepared themselves for this (Sally's victory) once Paul Mackney said he was not going to stand," said the official.

Will the result - as many predict - push FE to the margins of the new super union? Who knows? But two other general secretaries seen rubbing their hands later in the day were Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and Peter Pendle of the Association for College Management.

When ministers talk about the need for collaboration and "joined-up government", just how many people do they think should be kept in the loop?

The University for Industry, which runs learndirect, it seems, thinks everyone should be let in on the act. And its demand for thorough info from people bidding for contracts has become mind-numbingly complex and costly as a result.

FErret has received a number of complaints from people at the end of their tether (if not their tender). But this one takes the biscuit. The complainant wrote: "I was enraged beyond reason by them yesterday. We were applying via a so-called PQQ (Pre Qualifying Questionnaire) for a contract with them.

"They wanted so much detail that the eventual submission ran to a mind-boggling 80,000 words - just to see if we should be allowed to tender."

And their reward for such sterling efforts? Zilch. "I had notification yesterday that we would not be allowed to tender. To find out why, we were invited to call the Uf. operative on 0114 273 5473.

So he did, only to be told: "Er, sorry, but this is the number of Sheffield City Council Housing Department."

Exasperated, the FErret correspondent said: "So the Uf. don't even know their own phone number. What hope is left? Is this what they mean by joined-up government?"

I asked other, similarly snubbed organisations what explanation they were given. The usual answer seems to be "the cost". Has it never struck the Uf. that they are responsible for the exorbitant cost to the public purse of the whole bidding process?

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