Just what the doctor ordered

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
Graham Clark, interim principal of James Watt College, has drawn up a recovery plan for the crisis-hit institution

THE FINANCIAL recovery plan at James Watt College, drawn up by the management after consultation with the unions, will involve considerably fewer redundancies than originally envisaged.

But this plan will have to be followed by others, Graham Clark, the interim principal, has warned, in order to tackle high staffing levels and high staff pay.

The latest proposals, put together by Dr Clark and approved by the board on Tuesday, call for 35 job losses, of which 25 are at management level. This compares with the earlier total of 48, said to be necessary in order to balance the books and begin to pay off the college's accumulated debt of pound;6.8 million.

The Further Education Lecturers' Association has consistently rejected the redundancy policy, which has already been criticised as a "one-dimensional"

approach in the Scottish Funding Council's inquiry into the previous management's stewardship of the college. The association, part of the Educational Institute of Scotland, claims its members are being "punished"

and made to pay with their jobs for the mistakes of management.

But Dr Clark believes the actual number of compulsory redundancies will be "significantly below" 35, as staff opt for "relatively generous" voluntary severance packages and existing vacancies are filled by people redeployed from posts that will disappear.

These and other measures will all have to be completed by the end of July, on a phased basis. This will enable the college board to sign off the 2005-06 accounts, declaring the college a going concern, and allow it to achieve a balanced budget in 2007-08.

The plan involves savings of pound;1.6 million, which will create a small surplus of pound;177,000 in 2007-08. But the voluntary redundancy scheme will cost around pound;1.5 million and this will have to be repaid by July 2008 to the Scottish Funding Council, which has set a borrowing limit for the college.

The cull of management posts follows criticism in the report by the funding council's FE development directorate (Fedd) of a "bloated" and "under-performing" senior management. A new "executive directorate" of five will replace the existing 14 and report directly to the principal. Some existing post-holders will be matched to the new jobs; others will have to apply.

Responsible to the five new directors will be a management tier of 21 post-holders: 12 heads of school and nine cross-college managers. The 12 schools would be formed from amalgamating some of the existing departments.

Dr Clark has homed in on the curriculum offered by these departments as the "fundamental cause" of the college's financial crisis, and he wants to see con-trols introduced. There had been "an uncontrolled expansion of the curriculum, resulting in too many small teaching groups requiring too many teaching staff", his plan states.

"Mounting academic inefficiency was coupled with poor financial and human resource controls and a 'bloated', yet 'under-performing', senior management. This scenario, further exacerbated by high teaching staff salary levels, resulted in year-on-year budget deficits and soaring debt."

Dr Clark wants the curriculum managed more actively and, in particular, to end the practice at James Watt where the 60 senior lecturers do not have any significant management functions, which he describes as "a major flaw in the management structure of the college". It was this, he suggests, which allowed curriculum expansion to spin out of control.

The recovery plan, therefore, aims to give senior lecturers line management responsibilities and to re-title them "curriculum leaders". This is "integral and essential" to the plan, he says.

Other measures include the closure of the college's small Argyll outreach centres in Arran and Campbeltown.

Unfinished business

Graham Clark says in his recovery plan that, in effect, it is not finished business. The small surplus it will achieve clearly comes nowhere near to generating the size of annual surpluses necessary to pay off the debt and build up reserves.

Dr Clark says it will be essential to take further action to reduce academic staff levels which, even following the initial redundancies, will still mean that some schools will be inefficiently staffed.

He also returns to the theme, much contested by the lecturers' union, of James Watt teaching staff enjoying the best salary levels in FE - 7 to 9 per cent above the norm for the sector, according to the funding council's report, but only 5 to 6 per cent "and shrinking", according to the Further Education Lecturers' Association.

Dr Clark makes it clear that "it is an essential and longer-term integral part of this recovery plan that the management intends, at the earliest opportunity, to engage in measures to resolve these two issues".

He holds out the prospect of reducing staff costs through "careful vacancy management". This means not replacing staff until the option has been explored of redeploying and retraining people from areas where there is excess staff. A "skills audit" would help this process, the recovery plan suggests.

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