Strike looms after pound;25m cut for London colleges

six colleges in London are balloting for strike action over fears that lecturers could lose their jobs in a new round of adult education cuts.

Members of the University and College Union asked their colleges to guarantee there would be no compulsory redundancies as a result of a pound;25 million reduction in the budget for adult learning in the capital.

The strike ballots were triggered when Westminster Kingsway College, the College of North East London, Lambeth College, Hackney College, Barnet College and Southgate College failed to provide the guarantees, according to the union.

Three other colleges challenged by the union were able to provide the guarantees of no compulsory redundancies and averted the threatened ballot.

A one-off emergency fund of pound;15 million provided by Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, to preserve English language classes has not lifted the threat of losing about 40 jobs in each college.

Chris Powell, London regional official for the UCU, said: "The cuts in adult education are striking at the heart of London communities, hitting retired people, older workers and the new workers seeking to fill London's skills gaps.

"It is heartening to see that three colleges have been prepared to assure UCU that there will be no compulsory redundancies. We hope that the other six colleges will be able to do likewise. "London has people keen to learn and lecturers keen to teach but, despite government talk of lifelong learning, teaching jobs and courses are being cut."

The ballot ends on May 31 and the one-day strike would be expected to take place on June 13.

Adult education budgets in London have been reduced by 6.8 per cent in real terms, colleges said, while tough targets on the numbers achieving level 2 qualifications have put further pressure on other provision. In other parts of the country also affected by cuts, the union and colleges have avoided a clash. Bradford College, which faces 22 redundancies, put out a joint statement with the union blaming the change in government priorities.

Sue Rimmer, chairwoman of the Association of Colleges' London region, said colleges had little choice about the cuts and were doing all they could to soften the blow.

She said: "We are surprised at the response of UCU. All the colleges named are in formal consultation with unions at the moment.

"They are all seeking to avoid compulsory redundancies but they can't guarantee it because they're also obliged to balance their budget. They're in a difficult position.

"It's the speed with which colleges are expected to respond to the Government's changes in priority which is causing all sorts of problems.

Next year will be even worse if we continue along the current trajectory."

Unions have rejected colleges' initial pay offer after it fell below the increase offered to schoolteachers and the rate of inflation.

Employers offered staff a 2 per cent pay rise in September, with a further 0.5 per cent to be paid in January 2008.

The six unions involved in negotiations said they could not accept an offer less than the 2.5 per cent given to teachers, which would widen the pay gap between schools and FE.

Barry Lovejoy, UCU's head of colleges, said progress was being made on the workload issues that unions were also keen to address.

Colleges have offered to begin negotiations on a national guideline agreement on workloads and work-life balance, and to prioritise completing an agreement about training and development of staff.

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