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Roger Ward brazens it out;FE Focus

At the Association of Colleges conference, staff reporters tell how Roger Ward faces out calls for his resignation after last week's TES revelations and how the Education and Employment Secretary's new package went down with delegates.

The company which paid Association of Colleges' chief executive Roger Ward a pound;650 a month consultancy fee is trying to drum up business in both further and higher education.

Mr Ward has denied receiving any consultancy fee from Burke Ford Healthcare but the company's latest brochure contains an enthusiastic endorsement from him.

The Association of Colleges asked Burke Ford Healthcare to prepare an ill-health income replacement scheme for colleges. This year it issued a brochure styling itself as the "approved healthcare specialists to the Association of Colleges". Another brochure went out at the same time to universities saying it was a specialist provider of health insurance to higher education.

An article by Roger Ward in the brochure which was sent to colleges, said: "An estimated 360 million working days are now being lost in the UK annually. Sickness absence alone costs about pound;8 billion a year, of which the Health and Safety Executive estimates approximately pound;4 billion is accounted for by stress-related illness.

"The scale of the problem is considerable and (we) cannot afford to bypass the attentions and wider financial responsibilities now incumbent upon further education establishments I "I have invited the AOC's healthcare advisers, Burke Ford, to undertake a full review of all available healthcare services and associated costs. I would encourage all members to take a few moments to review the services outlined and to consider the healthcare issues facing the FE sector today." Signed R Ward, CBE, chief executive, AOC.

Last week The TES revealed that in 1995 Roger Ward, then chief executive of the Colleges Employers Forum - one of the bodies which preceded the AOC - was paid pound;650 a month by Burke Ford Reed. The CEF mailing list was handed over to Burke Ford Healthcare.

Mr Ward has denied any impropriety and said that there was no consultancy agreement. He says that the monthly payment was owed to him because his financial adviser had taken too much commission when managing his personal affairs. However The TES has seen a letter sent by Burke Ford Healthcare to Mr Ward confirming that "the consultancy agreement has now been finalised".

The brochure by Burke Ford Heathcare, describing employee benefits in higher education, is introduced by Diana Warwick, chief executive of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. It says the CVCP is pleased to be working with Burke Ford Healthcare.

Ms Warwick quotes the same sickness statistics as Roger Ward but is more guarded than Mr Ward in what she says about the company.

"Burke Ford Healthcare provide a range of healthcare services and CVCP members may wish to take a few moments to read their views and solutions to the healthcare issues facing the education world today."

A CVCP spokesperson said: "As part of CVCP's normal sponsorship programme, part of this year's residential conference was sponsored by Burke Ford Healthcare Limited. In return CVCP agreed to provide a statement for a Burke Ford brochure.

"This statement did not imply any approval or endorsement by CVCP but encouraged members to read the company's views and solutions to healthcare issues facing the education world." The spokesperson added that the wording had been agreed between CVCP staff and the company.

Mr Ward has also been accused of using his position as CEF chief executive to promote Education Lecturing Services, a staffing agency. Kevin McNeany, chairman of a competitor company, Nord Anglia PLC, had demanded Mr Ward's resignation, saying Mr Ward duped him into providing ELS with commercially sensitive information.

This allegation stems from a meeting between the two in August 1995 when Nord Anglia was bidding for the CEF's endorsement as a staffing agency. A third person was present at the meeting and Mr McNeany says Mr Ward introduced her as his assistant. In fact she was from ELS. Mr Ward denies saying she was his assistant.

Mr McNeany wrote to Howard Phelps, chairman of the AOC, complaining that he had been duped into giving a full briefing to his company's biggest competitor, unwittingly supplying them with confidential and commercially sensitive information.

Dr Phelps has since replied to Mr McNeany: "I note you are considering legal action but also invite me to let you have 'proposals for righting this matter'. I do not have at present before me any facts that support the suggestion that there is any wrong to be righted. You mention that you have retained your 'notes of the meeting'. It might be helpful for me to have a sight of those and perhaps you would fax me a copy quite without prejudice. When I have the details that will doubtless be clear from your notes I will be able to consider the matter more fully."

He adds: "I note, too, the wide dissemination of copies of your letter; you will appreciate this takes it quite outside the scope of qualified privilege and you would be unable to rely on this defence if defamation proceedings are brought. You may care to explain why you consider such a dissemination appropriate given that this is the first time you have raised the issues mentioned and the first time I have had a chance to consider them."

Mr McNeany replied: "The inference from your letter is that there is no serious or substantive matter to investigate. That is either naive or disingenuous. My letter was an invitation to you to consider the appropriateness of the relationship between your chief executive and a private company offering services to the sector."

He continued: "My notes are not available to you at this stage: the tone of your letter suggests you have not yet begun to view this matter with objectivity I I am not anticipating defamation proceedings: justification is a much more potent defence."

Mr Ward said in a a public statement on Friday, following the TES allegations: "There is not and never has been, any commercial or financial link between myself and ELS or any other company."

He had earlier told The TES: "I have no problem with what you have printed" although he added the proviso that the article may have been "a little over the top". He insisted that all the information was in the public domain and added: "I actually think it's pretty good reporting."

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