College Governors – Transparency and Accountability

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
21 February 2018

Conference notes that colleges in England and Wales are required to have student and staff representation on the college’s governing body. Governors are responsible for overseeing the successful running of the college including:

1)Approving the quality strategy;

2) Ensuring solvency, the effective and efficient use of resources and the college’s sustainability;

3) Approving annual estimates of income and expenditure;

4) Appointing, grading, suspending, dismissing and determining the conditions of service of senior post-holders and the clerk;

5) Setting a framework for the pay and conditions of service for all other staff.

The Technical and Further Education Act 2017 enables colleges in England and Wales to ‘go bust’ by way of an insolvency regime. If a college were to become insolvent it would potentially leave governors vulnerable under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986 (CDDA) as this now applies to governors of statutory corporation FE bodies. Whilst the Department for Education (DfE) is expected to provide information on the implications of the CDDA for governors, UNISON is concerned this could put staff and students off becoming college governors.

Staff and student governors are vital for holding colleges accountable for the decisions that they make and ensuring that staff concerns and priorities are understood by all governors and senior management.

Conference is concerned that some colleges propose to exclude staff and student governors to ‘protect’ them from becoming liable under the CDDA. This could mean that decisions about the college are not transparent and decision makers are not held accountable. UNISON does not want decisions affecting staff and learners to be made behind closed doors.

Conference notes that in Scotland there was a consultation on the issue of trade union seats on the boards of the 26 further education colleges. UNISON’s position is that TU seats should replace the current staff representatives. UNISON Scotland is pressing the Cabinet Secretary to progress this issue positively as happened recently in higher education in Scotland. UNISON Scotland has achieved inclusion of Staff Governance Standard in the Code of Good Governance for Boards, compliance with which is a condition of grant from the Scottish Funding Council.

Conference calls on the local government service group executive to work with the FE sector committee to campaign for:

a)Staff and students to have their voices heard in FE at a local college level, working with the NUS;

b) All colleges to have elected staff and student representatives on their governing body;

c) Trade union seats on governing bodies at colleges across the UK;

d) Staff governors to receive appropriate training and support to carry out their role effectively;

e) Decisions made by college governing bodies to be transparent and that staff interests are fully considered;

f) The DfE to ensure that the guidance on the new FE insolvency regulations protects, as far as possible, staff and student governors.