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Jarvis man to lead cash-strapped charity

The troubled Workers' Educational Association has recruited a new general secretary from Jarvis plc, the company responsible for much of the maintenance of the London Underground.

Richard Bolsin, who will have the task of leading the WEA out of its financial difficulties, is director of education at Agilisys, a joint-venture information technology company. The firm was set up by Jarvis and netdecisions, an information technology company.

Jarvis was responsible for track maintenance at Potters Bar at the time of the rail crash in which seven people died.

Mr Bolsin is expected to start at the WEA, the UK's biggest voluntary provider of adult education, by the end of March.

He also worked for 11 years at Kent County Council, including a spell as education director for North and Mid Kent.

In a letter to staff welcoming the appointment, David Plank, the WEA's interim chief executive, said: "This is an impressive track record and I am sure that Richard will serve the association well."

The WEA ends the year - which marks its centenary - with a pound;450,000 bail-out and a loan of pound;3 million from the Learning and Skills Council, having gone into the red after its senior accountant was convicted of stealing money from its coffers.

Andrew Malaolu, the charity's senior accountant, syphoned off pound;387,500 of its income.

The cash was recovered but many of the association's more recent cashflow problems have been blamed on the difficulties caused.

London East Learning and Skills Council has been supervising the recovery of cash since earlier this year. Under Mr Plank's guidance, the charity has been tightening up its book-keeping.

In a joint statement to FE Focus this week, the LSC and WEA said there had been "marked progress in addressing structural weaknesses, updating policies and procedures, restructuring the organisation to meet educational and financial imperatives, and developing a more inclusive culture amongst staff".

It continued: "The WEA is due to be inspected by the Adult Learning Inspectorate in March 2004 - the largest such inspection to date, involving around 100 inspectors at various times across the country for three weeks.

"The WEA feels it has turned a corner and is on the up, with controlled finances and a creative forward plan."

The pound;3m loaned by the LSC is roughly the sum the charity had lost over a two-year period before Mr Plank's appointment.

A further pound;450,000 has come from the LSC's "extremely significant weaknesses" fund.

There are 13 regional WEA associations in England and one in Scotland. The WEA says that it is essentially controlled by its members who plan the provision of courses as well as running the organisation as a whole through its democratic structures.

The association's financial difficulties, first reported in FE Focus in March, led to calls from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education for national organisations to be funded centrally by the LSC. At present, they fall under one of the 47 local arms depending on where their head office is based.

Agilisys provides IT support to thousands of schools and, in the year since it was set up in 2002, was responsible for pound;24.1m of Jarvis's turnover.

Steven Norris, the Tory candidate to be Mayor of London, is the chairman of Jarvis. The company was recently identified as the preferred bidder for a pound;263m contract to refurbish 39 schools in Norfolk.

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