AOC chief accused of bullying and intimidation

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Roger Ward, the Association of Colleges' chief executive, was accused in the House of Commons last week of being at the centre of a widespread policy of union-breaking, bullying and intimidation.

In an adjournment debate, John Cryer, Labour MP for Hornchurch, said Mr Ward had consistently encouraged colleges to get rid of staff and employ agency lecturers. To that end, Mr Ward, with the "Yorkshire tycoon and millionaire" John Kirkland, was instrumental in setting up the staffing agency Education Lecturing Services.

He said Mr Ward had an "interesting relationship" with another company, Burke Ford Reed, a firm that provides pensions and insurance to the education sector. In 1995, when Roger Ward was chief executive of the Colleges Employers Forum, he had handed that company a copy of colleges' mailing lists, so that it could try to sell them its corporate health plans.

"For some time Burke Ford Reed paid Ward #163;650 a month," said Mr Cryer. "Some key questions concerning Ward, the AOC and the two companies - Burke Ford Reed and ELS - are well worth asking ... What is the relationship between Roger Ward and ELS? What is the exact nature of their financial relationship?

"Second, why has Ward remained in post during the inquiry into his dealings with Burke Ford Reed? That is quite extraordinary; if he was a policeman under investigation for corruption, he would be removed from his post pending the conclusions of the investigation and would then be dealt with accordingly.

"Third, was there any breach of the Data Protection Act when Ward handed information to Burke Ford Reed? Did Ward supply information about the names and addresses of people running the colleges to ELS?"

He said it would help to clear up confusion if all the correspondence relating to the the founding of the AOC - or the CEF - was placed in the Commons Library. That would help shed light on the founding of ELS.

Dr Kim Howells, minister for lifelong learning, said it was up to the Association of Colleges to respond to articles in newspapers. "It is the Government's position that further education colleges are responsible for their own staffing decisions, and for deciding whether to employ staff through employment agencies and, if so, which agency to use. That does not mean that we are not aware of the allegations of abuse.

"There should be absolute clarity so that we can explain to the public and to the various public-spending watchdog agencies that we are convinced of the probity of the use of public funds. We shall watch the matter carefully."

He added that the Department of Trade and Industry - who had overall responsibility for industrial relations matters - was about to review the employment status of agency staff whose position is less than clear.

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