pound;20m campus plans shelved as job losses threatened

7th September 2012 at 01:00
Financial woes leave Kent college facing prospect of strike action

It has been a week to forget for K College. Just days after it emerged that the college has been forced to shelve its plans for a new pound;20 million campus (pictured) due to funding concerns, the University and College Union has threatened strike action over plans to make up to 145 employees redundant.

Building work in Ashford on the ambitious project by the college, formed two years ago following the merger of South Kent and West Kent colleges, had been scheduled to begin last spring. Now principal Bill Fearon has conceded that the plans are "unlikely" to be pursued for at least two years and that they may well have to be scaled down.

"It is too expensive in the current climate in the short term," Mr Fearon said. "The public sector at large, including colleges, is having to take austerity measures, and we have to budget within financial cuts and constraints that were not in place when we first embarked on the project. If and when we do go ahead, the scale of the development may be smaller than currently proposed."

The college is considering a temporary move into new premises in Ashford town centre, with a view to selling off its Jemmett Road campus, but no decision is expected imminently.

The row over the college's planned redundancies also shows no sign of being resolved any time soon. Last month, the college embarked on a statutory 90-day consultation with staff over its proposal to cut 110 full-time jobs and a number of part-time positions. It is planning to cut some of its less popular courses in order to reduce costs.

The University and College Union this week demanded that the college remove the threat of redundancy and allow a full audit of its finances to be carried out.

"We are unconvinced by the rationale from K College that another 145 jobs need to go," said Adam Lincoln, regional support officer for the union. "Over 50 jobs were lost as part of a reorganisation that finished just two months ago with the stated aim of securing the long-term viability of the college.

"These hasty new proposals, which involve the axeing of around 200 staff in a single year, would have huge ramifications for the local area in terms of the quality of education K College is able to deliver," Mr Lincoln added.

"We are not seeking confrontation, but we must defend the education service the college provides, not just for now but for the future. Strike action has not been ruled out."

Mr Fearon told TES that the college's learners were its priority, and that it was expecting to see a significant increase in its success rates.

"We are not prepared any longer to run courses that are not viable, and that are not appropriate for students in today's challenging jobs market," he added. "We are making efficiency savings across all areas of the college, but our top priority is to become and remain a top-quality college."

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