David Hughes AoC

On Thursday 26 November, @AoC_info met with the trade unions of the National Joint Forum (NJF) (@UCU, @unisontheunion, @NEUnion, @GMB_union and @Unitetheunion) to consult with them formally on the 2020/21 Pay Claim.

The formal response to the trade unions is noted in full below:

AoC Employers’ side recognises a strong alignment with the trade union pay claim for 2020/21 and recognises the enormous commitment and effort that staff have made to supporting students, delivering teaching and learning and helping to keep staff and students safe during the pandemic. The college sector has once again shown how vital it is to our society and college staff have stepped up to the challenges as they always do.

We are in full agreement with the trade unions that pay in the Further Education sector has fallen significantly behind other comparative sectors, due to a decade of chronic Government underfunding. Investment is urgently needed to ensure fair pay for the staff who work so hard in the sector to ensure the future skills’ needs of the country.

Sector financial pressures remain considerable and even without Covid, these should not be underestimated. Despite tough and challenging circumstances, we would have hoped to have been able to offer a better pay recommendation – but the ongoing precarious situation caused by the pandemic means this is not possible in the current year.

The pandemic has changed everything. Colleges are now facing severe financial pressure that have forced many into deficit and severe financial strain. The ESFA informed the Public Accounts Committee this week that there are 64 colleges requesting cashflow support already, and the costs of Covid are rising. On top of those additional costs, colleges have suffered a significant loss of revenue from commercial activity, fee income, apprenticeships, which has only been partially offset by the limited additional funding made available by Government for 16-18 education.

The Covid-19 crisis has brought great uncertainty in terms of income and expenditure for every college, and employers everywhere. Yet during the pandemic, colleges went to significant lengths to safeguard jobs and protect staff income, going beyond minimum requirements for instance by paying full salaries for those on furlough and redeploying staff to avoid redundancies to show their commitment to staff.

For the last two years college leaders have stood shoulder to shoulder with staff and unions to fight for better funding to be able to fairly reward staff. We want adequate funding so that colleges can match the Government commitment to schools to ensure that the starting salary for FE teachers is in line with the proposed £30,000 starting salary of schoolteachers. We want to adopt the Foundation Living Wage as the minimum rate of pay across the FE Sector. We would propose that we set up a commission, as a matter of urgency, that reviews the cost of implementing these actions, quantifies the funding required and makes a clear statement on the value we place on FE staff.

We strongly believe that these two significant pieces of work need to be developed at pace and concluded by March in order to provide evidence to next Spring’s Budget. We call upon the FE Joint Trade Unions to work with the AoC and its officers in this campaign.

In this context, we are making a pay recommendation for 2020/2021 of 1%, or £250 (whichever is the greater). We will strongly advise that those colleges who can afford to award staff more should do so, whilst we must acknowledge that some colleges may be unable to meet this recommendation.

It is disappointing and regrettable that the sector is unable to afford a better offer at this time. However, we believe the reasons are well understood and documented. Whilst we fully appreciate that this is not what trade unions and staff were hoping for, we believe, that it is more important than ever that we work together to ensure the future of FE.

We would call on union colleagues to work with us to secure a better pay deal for colleges and would invite you to begin that work immediately through gathering evidence to make our collective case for a pay deal which appropriately values staff.

David Hughes, Chief Executive of AoC said:

“Every college leader wants staff to be paid fairly and adequately for the work they do. Covid has shown how committed and hard-working college staff are and leaders are just as committed to campaigning for better college funding. Better funding would allow those longstanding pay issues in our sector to be addressed. A decade of neglect and funding cuts have devastated the financial health of the sector.

"As clearly stated by so many recent reports, including the Commission for the College of the Future, there does need to be serious government investment to allow pay to catch up. In the short term we are still pressing government to deal with current exceptional costs due to the pandemic and student number growth. I want us to continue to campaign with the unions to make this case, because together our voice is stronger.”

Gerry McDonald, AoC Interim Chair and CEO New City College said:

“The pay recommendation we have made is regrettably the only affordable offer AoC can make on behalf of the college sector given the sharp reduction in college income as a result of Covid-19. This ongoing instability means anything further at this time is not possible and we know that the first priority for colleges will be to protect jobs.

"We are committed to working with our union colleagues to improve funding for further education and are clear in saying that staff in our sector deserve a better settlement than we are able to afford this year.”

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