Warning over college leader business links

College leaders have been warned to “think carefully” about their outside-of-work consultancy posts after it emerged contracts from a Norfolk federation were dished out to a firm with links to the chief executive.

Dick Palmer, chief executive of the Ten (Transforming Education in Norfolk) Group, which includes City College Norwich, carried out advisory work for education IT services provider QuScient from September 2012 to July last year.

In early 2012 QuScient won a contract with the college for processing application forms and then it won another one last year for developing student monitoring software.

Ten denied that there had been any conflict of interest, with a spokesperson saying that Mr Palmer had not been involved in the process of deciding who should win the contracts.

However, Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “Many FE colleges benefit from some ‘outside’ help, but they need to think carefully about how it’s deployed.

“Any consultancy work needs to be transparent and focused on helping colleges to help themselves.

“Many of ATL’s AMiE [ATL’s leadership section] members are keen for college principals to undertake consultancy work, but not necessarily on a paid-for basis.”

According to Ten Group accounts, it paid QuScient £52,000 last year to develop software to monitor student retention, due to be introduced in September, and to consult on mapping student experience to improve efficiency.

Application form processing was also outsourced to QuScient on a pilot basis between January and April 2012, but the contract was not extended.

“The projects were overseen by the then-deputy principal of City College Norwich as part of his responsibility for corporate services,” said a TEN Group spokesperson.

“Mr Palmer took no part in the decision-making process.”

He added: “No payments were made to Mr Palmer. In the interests of openness and transparency, he declared to the TEN Group trustees that he had given unpaid advice to QuScient.”

The spokesperson said QuScient had been chosen because it was a “reputable company” with “relevant expertise”.

A QuScient spokesperson said: “There was no conflict of interest as the contract for provision of services to City College Norwich was awarded to our company before Mr Palmer provided us with any advice.

“The advice was not in relation to the services provided to City College Norwich, but in relation to the development of our products more generally relating to the FE domain.”