MPs blast top staff at Gwent

14th January 2000 at 00:00
FAILURES by management and governors of Gwent Tertiary College, and by the Further Education Funding Council (Wales), left the college on the brink of collapse, MPs said this week.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee lambasted virtually everyone in sight for allowing the college to go from robust financial health to the brink of disaster in just 12 months. It said there had been incompetent and secretive management, weak governance and ineffective regulation.

Committee chairman David Davis attacked the "serious mismanagement of public resources. Controls ... failed at every level. This is the latest in a succession of reports we have had to issue on serious failings in governance and management at further and higher education institutions. The lessons from this must be taken on board throughout the sector."

In 1996 a restructuring led to management posts increasing from 56 to 118 and staff pay and conditions were changed. From surplus the college went to an operating deficit of pound;6.8 million. Governors and the funding council were kept in the dark.The college will have to repay pound;2.9m to the Euroean Social Fund for projects not undertaken, and police are investigating for fraud.

The funding council failed to heed any signals, the report says. Even when the college predicted a loss of pound;2.7m, the council did not regard its financial health as unsatisfactory.

Sue Parker, the principal who has since resigned, was appointed without a probationary period, and no formal procedure for appraising her performance.

"We are appalled by the lack of honesty and integrity in financial reporting. (Mrs Parker), with the deputy principal and finance director, actively misled the governing body and the funding council about the college's true financial position," the report says.

"Given Mrs Parker's direct role in driving the college into serious financial difficulties..., we are concerned that she was allowed to resign and receive a package worth nearly pound;50,000 - in excess of her contractual entitlement." That, said the MPs, had sent out completely wrong signals to other managers, and to taxpayers. Mrs Parker had also been allowed to keep her car and mobile phone.

Gwent contract row, III

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