Hull College staff 'overwhelmingly' vote to strike over 200 job cuts

Staff at the financially troubled Hull College Group have “overwhelmingly” backed strike action in a bitter dispute over the potential loss of up to 231 full-time jobs.

In total, 170 (79 per cent) of 214 the University and College Union members who voted at the college’s three campuses in Hull, Harrogate and Goole supported industrial action.

Staff will meet on April 19 to discuss potential strike dates and to vote on a motion of no-confidence in HCG chief executive, Michelle Swithenbank.

The row centres on plans announced in March to cut the jobs in an effort to balance the books.

UCU believes that the proposal could lead to around a third of the workforce being cut and would mean “fewer learning opportunities for local people”.

Staff and students joined a lunchtime protest against the job losses outside the college’s Hull site today, after the college had “bizarrely” sent an email to all staff saying that anyone who joined the protest risked doing so illegally.

A spokesperson for UCU said this was “clearly was not the case” and has “questioned if the college was deliberately misinforming staff or did not understand employment law”.  

“Staff feel they now have no option but to take strike action to defend jobs,” said UCU regional official Julie Kelley. “They have little confidence in a senior management team that either doesn’t understand employment law, or has taken to deliberately misinforming staff to try and bully them out of protesting.

“UCU members will be discussing a motion of no confidence in the college chief executive tomorrow.”

The FE commissioner reported in February last year that HCG’s finances remained precarious after the then-Skills Funding Agency had issued a notice of concern in November 2016.

Richard Atkins warned that HCG’s “operating performance, as measured by surplus/deficit after interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation costs has amounted to a cumulative deficit of around £10 million over the past four years”, while “a further deficit in excess of £1 million is forecast for the current year”.

In a previous statement, the college’s chief executive Michelle Swithenbank warned that “some difficult decisions have to be made” to regain stability amid longstanding financial troubles.

In a statement released today, Hull College said: “Industrial action will not resolve the group’s financial and operational issues and we remain committed to an ongoing consultation which seeks to minimise potential job losses and support affected staff.

“We urge our union colleagues to work productively with us through this process and avoid the inevitable disruption the result of this ballot will cause for our current students and ability to recruit new ones.

“We are also aware of a number of planned protests in the city which sadly detract from our students’ achievements and the excellent learning opportunities which continue to be offered at all of our sites.”