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Walking the pay tightrope

This year has seen much negotiations with the unions, and consultations with our member colleges on the future pay arrangements for all our staff.

This activity follows concern that low pay levels are affecting recruitment and morale in further education. The time has also come for modernisation of the structures that lead us to reward and otherwise incentivise staff.

By July 2003, following member consultations, the Association of Colleges Employment Committee approved new "Modernising Pay" arrangements. By October 2003, each of the recognised trade unions had also accepted this AoC recommendation. AoC negotiators sought to gain union recognition for modernisation measures that will reinforce colleges' autonomy over pay structures. At the same time, we have sought a light-touch framework that gives colleges local flexibility and in which the Government will feel confident about investing under its latest comprehensive spending review.

Throughout negotiations, AoC has made it very clear that pay gains for staff have strings attached - in the same way as funding for colleges does.

There is a direct link between improved pay and the new Learning and Skills Council approach to premium funding in 200405 and 200506. Staff must now work to achieve college development plan targets, thereby optimising LSC funding.

Throughout consultations this year, our association has been very aware that many colleges will not be able to afford the entire pay package in the immediate future.

For that reason, AoC's recommendations are just that: their implementation is for colleges to determine locally, given their particular funding circumstances. Some colleges may wish to consider implementing various elements of the framework as part of a longer-term human resources strategy.

What is clear is that a settlement on cost-of-living percentages alone would not have won a negotiated agreement. At the same time, continued industrial unrest in the sector would not have assisted the AoC in making its case to government for further funding for colleges from 2006-2008.

We feel we have struck a balance which - although the deal is only a longer-term prospect for some colleges - offers a solid basis for improved performance, morale and professionalism, and a flexible and rational reward system for all. We are now looking to Government to provide colleges with the necessary funding to enable them to recruit new staff, retain existing staff and reward excellence.

This is a longer-term strategy to enable colleges to recruit and retain the teachers and leaders for the future.

Ivor Jones, is director of employment policy at the Association of Colleges

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