Staff confidence in leaders low as merger approaches
The difficulties affecting the college merger in Lanarkshire, which has been marred by disagreements and U-turns, have not been down to the attitude of staff, it appears.
A survey of Motherwell, Cumbernauld and Coatbridge colleges, which are set to merge as New College Lanarkshire, shows that staff view their institutions as student-focused, well led and having high standards.
The 581 staff questioned in the study also stated that there were high levels of trust towards colleagues at all three institutions. In fact, the survey shows that Cumbernauld College has "produced the highest levels of trust amidst the 20 colleges we have undertaken such exercises in".
More than 80 per cent of staff at the three colleges said they trusted their colleagues, and 74, 78 and 86 per cent - at Coatbridge, Motherwell and Cumbernauld, respectively - said they trusted their direct bosses.
But feelings among staff towards those leading the colleges were significantly less positive. At Coatbridge and Motherwell, only 55 and 50 per cent of support staff, and 57 and 49 per cent of teaching staff, said they trusted their college leaders.
A spokesman for the EIS, which represents teaching staff at colleges, said: "There is a clear commitment on the part of lecturing staff to deliver a high-quality learning experience for students and to ensure that the merger is a positive development.
"However, the report also identifies a number of significant concerns about the management culture in the individual colleges."
Martin McGuire, principal designate of New College Lanarkshire, said: "I am delighted that the cultural analysis report is so positive and I believe that this gives us a really strong platform for moving forward."
Cumbernauld and Motherwell announced plans to merge in January, with Coatbridge pledging to join them shortly afterwards. However, the college pulled out of the merger plans in February, only to rejoin in August. Because of the short time frame, Coatbridge will only join New College Lanarkshire in the spring of next year, after the initial merger of Cumbernauld and Motherwell next month.
The results of the culture survey seem to reflect the impact of this uncertainty, with "stressful" and "challenging" among the five descriptors most commonly used by staff to describe the environment at Coatbridge.
The results come as Coatbridge is facing accusations that some senior managers at the college were offered up to 21 months' pay as part of voluntary redundancy packages, compared with the 13 months offered to other staff. In a statement, union representatives from all three colleges said staff were "appalled and dismayed that this could happen at a time when funding has been severely reduced".
John Gray, chair of the board at Coatbridge, told TESS he believed that most of the comments he had heard about the board's dealings with staff were "ill-informed". "I am confident that once the full facts are known there will be a better appreciation of the situation," he said. A board meeting was due to take place this week.
Mr McGuire said staff at the three colleges had been offered the same package, including senior staff at Motherwell and Cumbernauld. He said any decision for enhanced pay-offs at Coatbridge was a matter for the college's board, but added that he would be "disappointed" if enhanced packages had been offered.
An EIS spokesman said: "If there is evidence that senior managers at a college are being offered severance packages that are significantly more generous than either other staff within the college or senior managers in other colleges, this would raise serious concerns."
A spokesperson for the Scottish Funding Council said: "If the figures quoted are correct, we would be very concerned."