Natfhe takes softer line on pay with poor country folk

1st July 2005 at 01:00
The lecturers' union is holding out an olive branch to cash-strapped rural colleges which are struggling to fund the national pay deal.

Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at Natfhe, says it recognises that colleges in the West Country are particularly hard hit by the current squeeze on funding because of the thinly-populated areas they serve.

In a letter to principals in the region, he said: "Natfhe recognises that there are several reasons for this, most of which stem from the under-funding of the FE sector, which is particularly severe in your region.

"The funding problem is compounded in this area because the peculiarities of the system discriminate against rural areas with low population densities to the extent that over a third of colleges in this region are in a precarious financial situation."

The two-year deal, including a 3 per cent annual pay rise increase and a new pay structure, has been implemented in half of colleges in most regions of England, says the union, but, in the West Country, fewer than 20 per cent of colleges have delivered.

Natfhe says it is prepared to discuss a longer timetable for the two-year deal - for 20034 and 20045 - in the West Country because of the particular hardship faced by its colleges.

But Mr Lovejoy stressed that this would not guarantee they would escape national industrial action which is expected as a result of what he predicts will be a "derisory" offer from employers - represented by the Association of Colleges - in talks about the 20056 deal, which applies from August. These talks resume on July 8.

Mr Lovejoy told FE Focus: "We have written to most of the West Country colleges which have not implemented the two-year deal. "We would be prepared to negotiate a longer timetable out of recognition for their circumstances.

"But this is getting complicated because we have next year's deal, from August, which we are negotiating and these things will run into each other."

He said similar deals have been done with other colleges around the country.

The 21 colleges contacted by Natfhe include Somerset college of technology, Gloucestershire college of arts and technology, Forest of Dean college and Truro college.

Forest of Dean, which boasts a cattle grid at its main entrance, is among those which claims to have been hit by a funding system which fails to take account of its rural location.

It has no major cities from which to draw students and has been struggling to keep class sizes viable. The nearest large towns, including Gloucester, 20 miles away, have their own FE colleges.

The Department for Education and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council have also been looking at the problem of staff recruitment in the South-west, where a lack of universities has meant a shortage of locally-trained teachers.

Natfhe has invited the 21 colleges to hold talks with the union's local representatives about jointly lobbying Government for better funding.

The Association of Colleges has also been calling for the funding system to be more sensitive to the needs of rural colleges.

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