Troubleshooting principal sacked

5th December 2003 at 00:00
The man hired to turn around Salisbury college is told to leave. Brian Best reports

A principal hired to turn around a college pound;2 million in debt has been sacked after proposing to make four members of his senior management team redundant.

Howard O'Keeffe has been dismissed from Salisbury college while the four managers, Colin Briddick, Jane Holmes, David Sambrook and Steve Dear, have all been reinstated.

Mr O'Keeffe, 54, was employed on pound;75,000-a-year only eight months ago to rejuvenate the 14,000-student college in Wiltshire which has been financially struggling for several years. He was summarily dismissed by Peter Riggs, the chair of governors, and given just one month's salary in lieu of notice.

Mr O'Keeffe arrived in Salisbury with the reputation of having turned round Havant sixth-form college in Hampshire. He had proposed the redundancies after taking the advice of consultants hired with the help of the local learning and skills council.

Mr O'Keeffe said: "I was dismissed without any explanation with just one month's salary. That has effectively terminated a 30- year unblemished career in education. I am very shocked. I have seen a solicitor and I will be taking legal action.

"The college was in serious financial difficulties when I took over. By removing me they have made the problems worse."

Part of the recovery strategy involved a complete reorganisation of the management structure.

In a summary of the consultants report Mr O'Keeffe had outlined the way forward for his 340 staff.

"The college needs a staffing structure which will provide a clear sense of purpose, security and stability, enabling the college to serve all its clients well," he said. "This implies some further restructuring to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of senior and middle managers meet more fully key needs, both operationally and developmentally."

It is understood that deputy principal Mr Briddick and assistant principals Ms Holmes, Mr Sambrook and Mr Dear were unhappy at the prospect of being made redundant.

Mr O'Keeffe's sacking has shocked George Bright, principal of the Wiltshire college and fellow principals Mike Hopkins of Swindon college and Graham Taylor of New college, also in Wiltshire.

Mr Bright said: "We are appalled at this decision and I have written a very strong letter to the board of governors of Salisbury college.

"We believe the treatment of Howard O'Keeffe to be both illegal and unconstitutional. In our view the governors have not followed the proper procedures set down in the instruments and articles of the government of the college.

"They have acted at variance with any decent principles and with employment law. Staff from the college have been ringing me very unhappy and angry about the way he has been treated."

In a brief statement Salisbury college said:"Following the departure of its principal Howard O'Keeffe, the board of corporation of Salisbury college is actively seeking to make an interim appointment to continue to build on the recent achievements of the college and vigorously lead the management and staff in implementing its strategic plan."

Mr Briddick confirmed that Mr O'Keeffe had been sacked and added: "There are financial issues associated with the college. We have the support of the Learning Skills Council and we are working with them to try and resolve matters."

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