Pounds 8m bill will cost 200 jobs at college

Nearly 200 staff are to be made redundant at Stoke-on-Trent College to meet an Pounds 8 million bill caused by lack of growth.

The college is urgently negotiating a loan to meet its Christmas salary bill of Pounds 1.5 million. Staff were told of the redundancies this week. Andy Robinson, the director of human resources, wrote to unions: "The college's ability to draw on either cash or reserves is unfortunately extremely limited, as it has neither."

The college is leaderless, as its director, Neil Preston, and an assistant director, Helen Chandler, have been on sick leave since September. They have also allegedly been running a pub in Wales, and are currently under investigation by a special committee.

The problem arose because Stoke failed to reach its target student numbers - there was a shortfall of about 20 per cent last year.

The college has been ordered to repay the Further Education Funding Council Pounds 3.5 million received for 199596. This year's targets included 3. 9 per cent growth on last year. As a result, there will be a cut in income for 199697 of a further Pounds 2.8 million. With interest, the total is a hefty Pounds 8 million.

Paul Mackney, the West Midlands regional officer for the lecturers' union, NATFHE, said: "This is a financial crisis unprecedented in the history of further education in England and Wales. This has been a fantasy expansion. "

The union is seeking a full independent inquiry.

The FEFC has ordered the college to prepare a financial recovery plan. A spokeswoman said: "They are seriously adrift. They had ambitious growth plans and they did not deliver and they did not notice it."

The proposed redundancies will hit every level. Half the 80 academic managers will go. In the marketing group, 28 out of 35 posts will be lost. In estates, 34 posts out of 94 will be axed, while in curriculum support, 55 out of 90 jobs may go.

Kevin Farrell, the chair of governors, said the first they knew of any problems was in September.

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