Union calls for college cash probe amid college turmoil

Warwickshire College principal Mariane Cavali. Picture submitted. ENGNNL00120121017164132
Warwickshire College principal Mariane Cavali. Picture submitted. ENGNNL00120121017164132

Union members have called on Warwickshire College to explain a “lavish spending of public money” amid stories of cuts and the shock departure of principal Mariane Cavalli.

University and College Union (UCU) called for the college to open up its books after discovering huge pay rises for senior managers and hundreds of thousands of pounds paid out for ‘educational concepts’.

Freedom of Information requests by the union found that pay for Ms Cavalli - CEO and principal (pictured) - had shot up by £50,000 in two years. And more than half a million pounds was paid to a group co-founded by Ms Cavalli, including a £324,000 bill for ‘new education concepts’.

The principal took sudden ‘temporary leave of absence’ on Friday in a shock move reportedly broken to staff in an email from governors. A college spokesperson confirmed the move that day, but gave no reason why.

The news came just weeks after the college announced it was facing a funding crisis of £3million and that 99 staff jobs were at risk.

A statement read: “Warwickshire College responded to the UCU Freedom of Information request in good faith and as required by legislation.

“We have no further comment to make on the contents of the FOI at this time.

“The governing board has in place robust internal and external audit processes for financial matters as required by governance arrangements in place across the further education sector.

“All colleges face financial challenges and Warwickshire College is no different.”

Anne O’Sullivan from the UCU said that in contrast to the principal’s apparent pay rise, staff have seen their real-terms pay fall by 16 per cent over the past five years.

She said: “Almost 100 members of staff at the college might lose their jobs, pay has been driven down and yet here are details of massive pay rises for a principal now on leave and other senior managers.

“The college needs to open its books up and explain why such large sums were given to the Gazelle group and what new education concepts are and why they cost £324,000.”

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Ms O’Sullivan continued: “We also need to know what has been spent on overseas travel and expenses, why managers got such big pay rises, who is getting a bonus on top of their salary and why.”

The reports also found that one unnamed senior manager enjoyed a bonus of £15,000.

And it was revealed that the controversial Gazelle Group of colleges - part founded by Ms Cavalli - has received over £500,000 from the college.

Warwickshire College pays £35,000 a year to be a member of the Gazelle group which was founded in 2011 by five college principals.

According to reports, the college has spent more than £200,000 on shares in Gazelle Transform Ltd and £324,000 for services in connection with developing a ‘new education concept’ with Gazelle Global Ltd.

In May this year Ms Cavalli announced to college staff that a £3million shortfall in Government funding meant job losses were “inevitable” and that up to 99 employees were at risk.

The cuts were announced in May after government funding was reduced by £10.6million, as well as a further £1million destined for adult courses.

The college employs more than 1,700 members of staff and works with more than 20,000 students across six sites including in Leamington and Warwick.

Ms Cavalli, who joined the college in 2010, was replaced with immediate effect by chair of governors Sue Georgious last Friday.

Steve Wood took over as vice chair of governors.

Last year Warwickshire College won praise from business secretary Vince Cable for ‘helping to shape the economy and create employers of tomorrow’.