New broom sweeps into Greenock

3rd November 2006 at 00:00
The man who took the helm at Inverness College in an attempt to sort out its financial crisis has now been sent in to rescue the troubled James Watt College in Greenock.

The appointment of Graham Clark, who was formerly principal of Falkirk College before heading to take over at Inverness, as acting principal at James Watt was announced last week. He will take over from Bill Wardle, who is said to be "absent through ill health".

Dr Clark will be joined at the top by Jim Skinner, former chair of the boards at Anniesland and Clydebank colleges, who will now perform the same task at James Watt. Mr Skinner has been involved in the Scottish Funding Council's review of the college.

Professor Wardle has bequeathed an explosive legacy to his successor, having sparked considerable unrest over plans for staff restructuring and the issuing of new contracts. At one time, it was envisaged this would have led to the loss of 70 academic and support staff posts.

The unrest continued with a rally staged by staff and students last Saturday in Greenock to protest at what they claim is the mismanagement of the college. Support staff are being balloted by Unison on strike action over a "derisory" pay offer, and the Further Education Lecturers'

Association has threatened a strike ballot if there was no acceptable pay offer by the end of October.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Funding Council confirmed that when Professor Wardle took over as principal in 2002, the college had an operating surplus of pound;301,000. Three years later, this had turned into a deficit of more than pound;2 million. A staff spokesman claimed:

"This trend has, unfortunately, continued to where we are now: more than Pounds 2.75 million in debt and rising. We need to know how this has happened."

The college management claimed that restructuring was necessary because of unforeseen financial problems caused by insufficient student numbers.

In a statement to The TESS earlier this year, Professor Wardle accused the FE union of "consistently and persistently refusing to accept the evident need for modernisation". He said that, because of changing student demand, there were "areas of the curriculum where present staffing levels can no longer be sustained".

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