Third of jobs in jeopardy;FE Focus

12th March 1999 at 00:00
Debts, dismissals and disputes ... Ngaio Crequer on three colleges that are in serious difficulties this week

The crisis-riven Halton College in Cheshire is to shed one third of its staff in a desperate attempt to remain viable.

David Taylorson, chairman of the board, announced 147 redundancies this week and a further 30 posts to go through natural wastage.

The decision has shocked staff, still reeling from an announcement only in January, that up to 60 jobs might have to be lost because of the college's financial situation.

Halton is being investigated by the Further Education Funding Council and the National Audit Office, and both are expected to report by the end of the month.

They are investigating a series of alleged financial irregularities. These include allegations that the college management made false claims for course funding, used public money to set up a private company on college premises, purchased IT equipment in contravention of financial guidelines and spent pound;250,000 on a refit of the principal's office suite.

Principal Martin Jenkins and his deputy, Jenny Dolphin, were suspended last May and deny all allegations against them.

The college this week said it needed to concentrate on providing education locally , rather than the expensive franchised courses to which it had previously been committed.

Acting principal John Bolton said the last government had encouraged competition and entrepreneurial activity, which the college had developed. But it had lost its local focus.

The college has already begun to repay the FEFC some of the millions of pounds it owes after making unjustified claims. The total amount owed by Halton has never been made public, but sources inside the college say it could be as much as pound;13 million.

Members of NATFHE, the college lecturers' union, and Unison, representing public-sector workers, have passed votes of no confidence in the board and called on governors to resign.

Colin Gledhill, regional official for NATFHE, said "How much responsibility does the board accept for the events that led to all of this?

"To imply that the board was simply following government policy is to deflect attention from the fact that they did not perform their duty of ensuring the financial solvency of the college. We need a clean slate and a fresh start".

Meanwhile, at the Isle of Wight college, principal Dr Michael Taylor has been suspended on full pay. He was escorted off the premises on Friday.

His deputy Carl Groves has been appointed as acting principal. The governing body has ordered an investigation but has not said what areas this will cover.

The FEFC has been monitoring the college for some time because of concerns about its finances. As The TES was going to press, senior officials from the funding council were meeting the governing body.

Talks were also taking place this week at Harlow College where NATFHE has declared a dispute.

The college wants to reform its management structure. All 38 deputy heads of faculty, section heads and senior tutors will be made redundant from May 31. Staff will be eligible to seek voluntary redundancy or redeployment. Those who are not redeployed and cannot be offered lecturer posts will be made compulsorily redundant.

More than 20 administrative and support posts will also go. The move follows criticism after an FEFC inspection.

One insider described the move as a "dumbing down of all management positions".

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