Clawback brings strike

28th October 2005 at 01:00
Lecturers at a college hit by a pound;1.3 million funding clawback are staging a one-day strike next week in protest over an estimated 95 job losses.

Staff at Doncaster college, in South Yorkshire plan to walk out next Thursday (November 3) unless the threat of compulsory redundancies is withdrawn.

The lecturers' union Natfhe says 40 of those job losses are as a result of the funding cuts to adult education courses.

The rest are primarily because of the financial penalties imposed on the college by the Learning and Skills Council for its failure to recruit extra 16 to 18-year-old students last year, the union said.

Natfhe is also blaming the heavy costs associated with the building of a prestigeous new college site, and the fact that schools get 13 per cent more funding than colleges.

The action takes place just when the college has appointed a new principal.

David Gates, currently head of Keighley college in west Yorkshire, is due to take over at Doncaster college in January.

Arthur Ridings, the interim principal, said job losses were unavoidable as the college has to "live within its means", but he is "trying desperately hard" to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Professor Ridings said: "I have been pressed to give a commitment that there will be no compulsory redundancies but at this stage I am unable to give that commitment."

However, he said he gave the union an assurance that no staff members would suffer pay cuts if they were moved to different positions in the restructuring.

Angus McLardy, the union's regional support official in the East Midlands, said: "Some Natfhe members think the Government is to blame for treating FE as the Cinderella of education.

"Others are angry at the previous college management that did not warn staff that there may have been recruitment or student tracking problems.

"However, blame certainly does not lie with our members. Many qualified lecturers at Doncaster college are among the lowest-paid in South Yorkshire and the East Midlands and work the longest hours, yet they deliver brilliant educational opportunities from basic to university level to students aged 14 to 90."

Mel Battersby, the college's Natfhe branch secretary, said: "My members are impatient to make a public and collective protest at the way their service is being treated.

"They have appreciated that our talks with management have meant that previously-planned pay cuts for certain staff have been withdrawn and they can see that the number of potential redundancies has reduced.

"However, they know that compulsory job cuts are still being seen as the answer, despite all we have done in talks."

The strike is the latest blow for the college since its principal, George Holmes, left in July to become vice-chancellor of Bolton university. Dr Holmes is believed to be the first FE principal to head a university.

After his departure, the LSC imposed two new governors to oversee the running of the college because of concerns over its finances.

One positive note is that work is proceeding as planned on the pound;90 million development of Doncaster Education City, the largest education project in Britain, which the college will move into next year.

Work also started earlier this month on another huge college building project in Yorkshire. The York college, a pound;60 million development, is expected to be the largest of its kind in England.

Balfour Beatty, recently fined pound;10m for negligence over the Hatfield rail disaster, has been awarded a pound;46m construction contract.

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