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This principal was paid a #163;50k 'retainer' last year, bringing her pay to #163;250k. Meanwhile, her college wants to axe 170 jobs

A leading college, which is planning to cut more than 170 jobs, has come under fire after it emerged that its principal received a pound;50,000 retainer last year, taking her overall package to more than pound;250,000.

In the financial year 200910, Dame Jackie Fisher was paid pound;72,788 on top of her regular salary of pound;186,984, including a retention payment of pound;54,091. The rest was made up of a performance bonus.

The college told FE Focus that the one-off payment was agreed as part of its efforts to "retain high-calibre managers" through a period of expansion, and insisted that Dame Jackie, also chief executive of Newcastle College Group (NCG), has played a key role in helping it become "one of the UK's largest and best-performing" FE providers.

But last month, the college announced that 171 jobs, including 120 teaching positions, faced the axe.

The University and College Union (UCU) branch at the college is balloting members on strike action.

UCU regional support official Joyce McAndrew said: "Staff are very angry about the (principal's pay) increase, however it has come about and however college governors seek to justify and explain it. Branch officers have been inundated with emails from angry members.

"Given the current climate at the college, it doesn't fit well with the job losses. To lose that number of teaching posts is unprecedented."

Newcastle College had the highest FE national average point score per student in the country in the Department for Education's latest performance tables.

During 200910, the college reported a turnover of more than pound;80 million, and had 18,000 FE students, 7,000 work-based learners and 3,000 higher education students on its books.

Earlier this year, governors at neighbouring Northumberland College agreed to join NCG, which also includes Skelmersdale and Ormskirk College in Lancashire and Sheffield-based national training organisation Intraining. The merger with Northumberland is still to be ratified by the Government.

The college said Dame Jackie's 200910 salary was the same as she received in 20089, and added that the retention payment was paid six months before managers were made "aware of the full impact . of Government's changed policies and priorities".

Joanne Syrett, former chair of the college's remuneration committee, said it had decided four years ago to introduce a "reward strategy" to retain senior staff to "facilitate the integration of new parts of the business" and ensure the college group could "retain high-calibre managers capable of responding to change".

Jamie Martin, chair of the college's governors, said: "Under Jackie Fisher's leadership we have become one of the UK's largest and best- performing providers of education, training and employability in the sector.

"The risk of not having a talented management capacity was unacceptable and so the decision was taken to put in place a remuneration strategy which would reward senior managers if they stayed in the organisation for the full three years."

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