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Union chief faces troubled weekend

Beleaguered lecturers' union leader John Akker faces a grilling at this weekend's annual conference over the cost of axeing staff at the cash-strapped NATFHE, writes Lucy Ward.

Mr Akker, whose work is being monitored by officials after a disciplinary panel found he had failed to understand union policy, will come under renewed attack following the departure of 16 staff from the union's London headquarters.

The voluntary redundancies cost Pounds 200,000, compared with a saving on wages this year of Pounds 90,000, a confidential report will reveal at a closed conference session.

Leading NATFHE representatives, some of whom have publicly demanded Mr Akker's resignation, claim the general secretary cannot claim the credit for moves to slim down the union's top-heavy structure without also taking responsibility for other less popular measures.

NATFHE's cash problems are linked inextricably to the fortunes of colleges, where large-scale redundancies have badly hit the union's membership and income.

Debate at the London conference is likely to centre on the effects of further education cash constraints on college staffing. This week, the first signs emerged of redundancies being planned as a result of the latest round of funding allocations for next year.

NATFHE members at the College of North East London are considering industrial action in the wake of proposals to make 30 lecturers and 22 support staff redundant. The college, which axed 38 staff in 1996-97, had its annual budget for 1996-97 slashed by 10 per cent - Pounds 1.4 million -after failing to hit growth targets.

Bradford and Ilkley Community College, with a funding cut of 2 per cent, is also facing voluntary redundancies. Other colleges among the 151 with reduced budgets are likely to follow suit.

Delegates at the conference will acknowledge for the first time that rising class sizes and reduced tutorial time are seriously endangering quality and standards, according to one official.

For the first time at a NATFHE conference, industrial relations issues including pay will be debated in separate sector conferences for further and higher education, following the streamlining of the union's structure.

NATFHE leaders are currently negotiating with college employers leaders over the 1996-97 pay claim, with both sides due to meet on June 10 after earlier talks ended in deadlock. Conference delegates will be told that, if the talks stall, the union will declare a breakdown and make the milestone shift from national to local pay negotiations, as well as balloting for nationally co- ordinated industrial action.

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