New AoC chair aims for a unified voice

THE ASSOCIATION of Colleges has elected as its new chairman the man who pulled the plug on its debt-ridden training business.

John Bingham, the chair of governors at Thomas Rotherham sixth form college in Yorkshire, led the board of the AoC's Workforce Development company for the last sixth months of its existence. The company had been losing cash for years and Mr Bingham closed it down when the scale of its pound;1million losses became apparent.

He said: "I wasn't aware of the exact situation of the company until I became chairman and it was closed on my watch."

His appointment as the association's chairman, the first from a sixth form college background, comes after discontented members refused to re-elect his predecessor, Margaret Morgan. Mr Bingham said: "I hope the AoC hasn't lost the trust of its members."

Ten years after it was founded, the association has begun an independent review, which could end in widening membership to include private training providers, schools or local authorities.

It is also facing a challenge from the formation of the 157 Group, a lobbying organisation of 25 of the largest successful colleges. Ministers have courted the group, which they see as a more optimistic voice of colleges, putting pressure on the AoC to be less confrontational and critical of the Government.

Mr Bingham said he saw his role as ensuring that the association continued to speak for all colleges so that FE did not fragment into disparate interest groups. "The 157 Group have their issues, sixth form colleges have their issues and different regions have their issues," he said. "The important thing is that the constituent parts are listened to and we can speak as the voice of FE.

"It's an exciting time. The next year, the next eight months, will determine (our) future development and direction.

"I want to listen to members and hear what they've got to say and become more inclusive and responsive. We need to speak as one sector. That's what I hope to achieve."

He said he wanted to spend more time visiting members in the regions, in particular, to ensure the AoC was reflecting their views properly; being based outside London would help, he added.

Mr Bingham, a management consultant in the telecommunications industry, has been chairman of the board at Thomas Rotherham college, rated category A for financial health, since incorporation in 1993. He has also been an AoC board member for five years and was chairman of its finance committee.

John Brennan, the association's chief executive, said: "In the challenging times ahead for the sector, John's leadership will make a vital contribution to building greater recognition of the crucial role that colleges play in UK economic success and social integration."

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