Staff at Lewisham Southwark College (LeSoCo) are fighting £7 million cuts to staffing that could see 110 full-time equivalent jobs lost by July of this year. The cuts will also see the closure of the college's Camberwell site.
On 15 April staff were called into a meeting by the college's principal-designate, Carole Kitching, who announced the cuts, but were not given the option of asking questions. Staff in Unison and UCU believe the cuts will have a devastating effect on the college and on local communities. The notion that the cuts will “save” the college is farcical. Despite the cuts to teaching and support staff, senior management will be gaining another post!
The loss of 110 full-time equivalent posts will actually result in the loss of up to 175 jobs including those of part-time workers. 300 staff will be given potential redundancy notices, as who will lose their job in the process of reapplying is not yet know.
The restructure will also create new posts. The precedent is that these jobs will be on worse terms and conditions than current jobs.
Further Education (FE) colleges are facing significant funding cuts from central government funding.
In 2014-15 there was a 19% cut to the Adult Skills Budget and a 17.5% cut in the rate paid for full-time 18 year-old student. This is on top of a 12% cut in non-school budgets agreed by the Department for Education (DfE) in 2010 for the period until 2015. There has also been no increases in funding for pay rises or inflation since 2010. The DfE has announced there will be further cuts in FE funding, but it is as yet unclear where these will fall.
This has led to a situation where FE colleges are running on very tight budgets. Many still continue to spend large sums of money on marketing, management structures and consultants and mock Ofsted inspections, notionally so they are “competitive”. Colleges such as LeSoCo are run by management teams that have lost sight of the educational purpose of their college, and instead look at the college as a business.
Due to an expansion in provision by schools, academies and sixth form colleges, FE colleges are left with students who can't get a place in school sixth forms or sixth form colleges.
These students tend to need more support, and therefore require more staff and more funding. The answer is to increase funding to services that support students, not cut it.
Campaigners at LeSoCo point to £40,000 spent on a mock Ofsted inspection, £177,000 and counting on interim management, £290,000 on re-branding, and unknown amounts on employing consultants.
The college has spent £40 million on a contract to redevelop the site at Waterloo, a building project that has had such disasters as a gym built with a ceiling that is too low, resulting in the building contract running late and over cost. The sell off of the Camberwell campus is a sacrifice to fund the spiralling costs of the Waterloo redevelopment.
When staff were not allowed to ask questions at the 15 April meeting, they started an inpromptu protest on the college steps.
This follows a lobby of the college governors on 24 March before the details of the cuts were unveiled.
Campaigners will hold a lunch-time demonstration on Wednesday April 22, and are calling on students to join them. They will also join the UCU demonstration on Saturday 25 April (12.30 at LeSoCo, 25 The Cut, SE1 8LF, to City Hall).
All four UCU branches at LeSoCo have voted to ballot for strikes over job cuts and course closures. Branches cannot be left to battle government funding cuts alone. UCU needs to develop a strategy for FE, and organise a national, political and industrial, campaign to defend FE.
UCU should demand a huge increase in FE funding, reversal of all cuts to adult education, an end to the drive to close FE colleges, and removal of the market from FE.