Ward and Unison's unholy alliance

An alliance between college employers and the biggest public sector trade union was forged this week, taking the college lecturers' union NATFHE by surprise.

In an unprecedented move, Unison, which represents the majority of support staff in colleges, has joined forces with the Association of Colleges to make a united stand for better funding in further education.

Leaders of NATFHE were clearly taken aback by what lecturers will see as a rather unholy alliance between a union and their arch-enemy Roger Ward, chief executive of the AOC in the week of Labour's annual conference.

Rodney Bickerstaffe, general secretary of Unison, had met Mr Ward recently to discuss the future of FE and the union's role. They agreed a joint letter to the Government attacking the years of underfunding which, they say is jeopardising Labour's FE expansion plans.

Unison has 25,000 members in FE and, Mr Bickerstaffe said: "Support staff have a key role to play in the development of colleges. The current funding regime is leading to a loss of job security and undermining morale. I welcome this initiative with the AOC."

Kate Foley, national officer for Unison, said the partnership arose from this year's pay talks. "Funding is very high up on the agenda in the FE world and we recognised that we could maximise our efforts by a joint approach.

"Obviously where we differ on industrial relations, we will continue to do so. There has not been a complete breakout of harmony in the garden."

Roger Ward said the colleges "stand ready and waiting to deliver the government's education manifesto. Sadly, while committed to inclusivity and greater access, the cuts mean we are actually turning away students." Management and union alliances were needed to convince Labour that more cash was needed.

Sue Berryman, NATFHE national negotiating officer, was sanguine about the alliance but said the unions were working closely anyway.

A working group of TUC-affiliated unions, including Unison, and other blue collar and teacher unions was about to issue a joint statement on education funding.

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