Funding cuts and poor vision risk 1,300 jobs, union claims

17th July 2009 at 01:00
55 colleges propose cost-saving measures, and more redundancies are feared

Nearly 1,300 jobs are at risk across 55 colleges in England and Wales and more redundancies are forecast, according to the University and College Union.

The West Midlands has the highest tally with 256 jobs at risk, the UCU said. Wales was expecting 155 job cuts, and the South West 151.

Learning and Skills Council funding cuts were the most common reason for the job losses, the UCU's survey noted. The union said the job cuts were the result of a "toxic combination" of government policy and "institutional myopia".

"On the one hand, the Government has unhelpfully cut budgets and frozen funding at department level as it tries to recoup the costs of bailing out the banks," it said. "On the other, UCU believes that institutions are behaving in an unaccountable way, cutting jobs without reference to the national need or the needs of our communities."

Barry Lovejoy, UCU's head of further education, said: "This might be the tip of the iceberg, in the light of the efficiencies indicated by government over the next two years.

"We are aware that some colleges have severe financial problems, but I think it is prudent for colleges to retain their infrastructure for a time, and we think colleges should be taking the argument for extra funding back to government."

College staff in the West Midlands are bearing the brunt of the cuts. City College Birmingham is seeking 76 job losses and longer teaching hours, according to the survey. This follows the loss of 75 teaching jobs a year ago, it said. The union said that if the cuts go ahead, the college will have lost nearly a third of its teaching staff in just over a year.

David Gibson, interim principal, said that although the original severance figure was higher, the college was now looking to lose 25 teaching jobs this year, and there were no plans for compulsory redundancies. He said the college cut 50 jobs last year through voluntary severance.

The cuts were due to historic student under-recruitment, which has seen its core grant fall from Pounds 33 million in 2007-08 to Pounds 24.5m next year, he said.

The UCU reported that up to 77 jobs are at risk at City of Bath College. But the college said 77 staff are included in a consultation and that only a few jobs may be lost.

A spokesman said: "The overwhelming majority are being consulted on changes to their terms and conditions and are not at risk of redundancy . It is anticipated that through this process we may need to make between three and five full-time equivalent redundancies."

The union said Liverpool Community College was trying to cut 40 jobs through voluntary redundancy after withdrawal of LSC funding totalling Pounds 1.6m for 2009-10.

The college said it was not in a position to confirm the UCU figures but it had seen a reduction in its recurrent funding from the LSC for next year.

A spokesman said: "As a consequence, the college, in consultation with the trade unions, opened an attractive voluntary redundancy programme to staff. This scheme has been successful, with 19 members of staff accepting the package."

Leeds College of Building is considering 32 redundancies, the union said. The college said that was a "worst case scenario".

The college said there had been a decrease in building apprenticeships due to the recession, and the forecasted loss of income had led it to propose cost-cutting.

Fifteen of the 25 Welsh colleges were told earlier this year their funding would be cut for 2009-10, prompting fears that up to 500 jobs would have to go. But the Welsh Assembly government found an extra Pounds 6.8m so that no college would see its budget cut.

But redundancies are still likely at many Welsh colleges. The union said Coleg Sir Gar, in Carmarthenshire, was seeking 62 job cuts. But the college said that because of the extra Assembly government money, fewer jobs would go, and about 25 people had now taken voluntary redundancy.

Evan Williams, the Association of Colleges' director of employment and professional services, said any redundancy was a serious matter, but added. "We are in a recession. There is a long-term squeeze on public spending - as highlighted by Lord Mandelson this week - which is already having a direct effect on college funding."

Editorial, page 36

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