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Vote for strike in Bradford

Fears that more than 100 staff will be sacked as college struggles to get out of the red. Shekhar Bhatia reports

One of Britain's biggest colleges faces a walkout by lecturers after its staff voted to take strike action against compulsory redundancies.

It is feared that 122 jobs will go at Bradford college.

Lecturers' union Natfhe says the cull has been imposed without adequate consultation by the college, which has 26,000 students.

The college is facing a financial crisis and needs to reduce its annual budget by pound;3 million.

Natfhe officials said 87 per cent of the lecturers who took part in a ballot voted to strike.

Members of Unison, the union which represents support staff, are also being asked to back action to prevent jobs being lost.

Andy Welsh, the college's director of corporate services, said the college still hoped it could avoid strike action.

"We are working hard with lecturers to avoid industrial action if we can, so we have been engaged in a meaningful consultation process with them," he said.

"We want to avoid strike action. We do have staff costs that are higher than most other colleges."

Natfhe says the lecturers are being made to pay the price for the college's failure to control its business affairs and meet its obligations to the Learning and Skills Council.

But Mr Welsh said: "I don't think anything has gone wrong.

"It is just a case of bringing the college up to date so that its needs are met. It is not that anything has gone wrong in the past - we just need to be a different sort of organisation going forward in the future.

"There is a significant unmet demand for further education in Bradford, and we need to have the right structure in place to meet that demand. Our financial situation is only part of the picture.

Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at Natfhe, said: "Bradford college has provided an education for generations of families. These proposals will threaten their futures. "Lecturers are angry - not only because 122 jobs will be lost but also because education in the city will suffer.

"Their anger has reverberated throughout the community."

Martyn Moss, Natfhe regional official for Yorkshire and Humberside, said:

"This vote confirms how angry our members are as well as their desire to defend their jobs and the quality of education for the people of Bradford.

"We now hope that we can discuss with the college a more sensible restructuring programme that does not involve compulsory redundancies."

David Brack, Bradford college's marketing manager, said the restructure was part of a financial plan to enable the college to generate a surplus of Pounds 1.5m by 2006-7.

He said the college has been operating with a deficit - the result of both a shortfall in funding due to not meeting student recruitment targets and offering staff higher pay than in other colleges.

He added: "College managers have taken into account benchmarking information on pay, examples of good practice in other colleges, potential areas for growth, market developments, quality of service delivery and learner expectations to inform the resulting restructure."

The college said it had announced its redundancy programme to bring it into line with the best national practice on staffing structures.

Michele Sutton, Bradford College's newly appointed principal, who took on the position last August, led a review of areas for growth and development in a bid to resolve the financial crisis.

She said: "The college needs to become more market-focused and able to respond to changes in demand.

"The restructure is required in order to provide improved service and value for money to the people of Bradford and the wider community. "We will provide a more exciting range of courses that meet the needs of local people and businesses."

Ms Sutton said that compulsory redundancies would be "the last resort".

Natfhe says there is a disproportionately high number of Asian lecturers among those likely to be made redundant, although the college, which is in one of Britain's most ethnically-mixed cities, vehemently denies being insensitive to race issues.

The college has already implemented a voluntary redundancy scheme. More than 40 staff have accepted pay-offs.

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