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Life close to the wire

The headline figures suggested he might be pound;800,000 better off this year, but Ian Clinton, principal of Halton college on the Wirral, worked out the true amount was nearer pound;160,000.

He dampened union expectations of a hefty pay rise. He has already survived a painful three-year recovery programme - the college went pound;16.2 million into the red after its franchising programme got out of hand.

(After incorporation in 1993, colleges were exhorted to dash for growth, starting courses off-site through other organisations until, in January 1997, the Treasury withdrew financial backing.) A softly-softly approach has enabled the college to save pound;6m over three years. Unions were heavily involved and 70 voluntary redundancies occurred with barely a murmur of discontent.

Mr Clinton hopes more of the same will steer him through the post-recovery period. He saved pound;17,000 by withdrawing from the Association of Colleges. He does not expect to be rich in 2005, saying extra funds will make only a small difference. "Every college is a problem waiting to happen - we are all pound;100,000 or so from the wire."

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