Dodging Roger's images

27th October 1995 at 00:00
Francis Beckett tries to find the true identity of Roger Ward, the man who moulded the CEF. The first impression given by Roger Ward, veteran of bruising battles over new lecturers' contracts, is of a vain man in smart suits who loves confrontation, publicity and champagne.

But he is also a man nervous enough to ask to see this article before it appears, who is more irked than he would like to admit if he feels he has been misrepresented.

The two Rogers even remember things differently. Take the time in a Preston hotel when he shocked college principals and chairs of governors by having a bottle of champagne delivered to the top table in a silver bucket.

Was it part of the Ward style? He says: "Of course it was. I was saying, look, boys and girls, it's different. Understand from day one that if you're going to employ Roger, you're going to enter into a world which is very different, more up-front."

But then he calls it a mistake which embarrassed him. "I had ordered the champagne, but it took such a long time to get it delivered that the meeting started."

He lives with his wife in Hampstead, but was born in 1947 in Newcastle upon Tyne and went to Newcastle's Royal Grammar School.

He went to Lancaster University, where he says there was "a very efficient Labour Club" (and adds that he ran it). He became student union secretary and ran an unsuccessful campaign to get the students union out of the National Union of Students, saying that for two-thirds of the NUS subscriptions he could run better services.

In the 1970 general election he was Labour candidate for Westmoreland, a safe Tory seat. Then Barbara Castle, Labour MP for nearby Blackburn, put him in touch with Clive Jenkins, the leader of the white-collar trade union, the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs.

Clive Jenkins fitted the bill of role-model. "Roger regarded politics as a lifestyle addition," says one of his ASTMS colleagues. "His oleaginous and slightly obsequious manner was not generally liked." Some thought he modelled himself on Jenkins, whose verbal tics (and love of champagne) are still with him.

Roger, 48, worked there for 17 years. Then he became chief executive of the Polytechnics and Colleges Employers' Forum. Did he feel at all uneasy about being a poacher turned gamekeeper? "Like any good lawyer you take a brief and you speak to it." A member of his board says: "Roger so much likes to win that he does not always remember why he wants to." I put that to Roger. "That's criticism? I'm a serious believer in winning."

He put this belief into practice after the CEF was created in 1992 and negotiations over new lecturers' contracts collapsed. "I told NATFHE, if they didn't trade with me, I'd beat them. And I did. Hands down."

But it is not clear that he won. Since no national deal could be agreed, Roger advised colleges to adopt his model contract, NATFHE offered to negotiate local deals, and they squabbled about how many colleges chose each route. He gloats that NATFHE's national leaders proved "a pretty dismal crew".

The CEF job has brought about the birth of the more cautious Roger. As it moves towards merger with the Association for Colleges opinion is divided over whether the merged body should be run by him or AFC chief executive Ruth Gee.

Those who dismiss Roger's antics as buffoonery or self-aggrandisement fail to see his influence over key figures including ministers. After cutting his teeth at the PCEF, he moved into FE. He drew like-minded principals and chairs of governors at about 70 colleges round him and created the CEF.

Third-choice for the PCEF job, he strove to prove himself. His wings were continually clipped as his employers sent him back to the negotiating table. The then PCEF chair Ken Green says he more than proved himself. "I would back him as a negotiator against anybody." At the CEF, he pledged to have a freer hand.

He advised civil servants on the Pounds 50 million grant holdback for colleges which failed to press ahead with flexible contracts, and he regularly had the ear of former FHE minister Tim Boswell. Roger's CBE last year was awarded for services to HE, but it also reflects the Treasury's indebtedness to him.

He claims there is a stark choice: the new thrusting, managerial, entrepreneurial spirit or harping on about old-fashioned Labour party ideas on access and curriculum development.

He is sure ministers and new Labour would prefer him. He will not hesitate to play the Government card when the merger battle hots up.

Yet it is far from certain that he will win despite his boast that he will get the top job. If he does, which Roger will it be? One supporter says: "It is easy to be blinded by his verbal displays and provocativeness." But the supporter adds that "the bravado and provocative remarks are a screen to hide the fact that he is one of the intellectuals of our scene. He raised our game, if we are prepared to learn."

Roger says: "There's far too much complaining that the funding isn't good enough, morale's low. What we should be saying is: we've got our independence. Let's not complain too much about funding, let's get on with managing efficiently the resources that we now have. FE must become 'smaller, leaner and fitter'."

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