UCU raise concerns over appointment of principal who jumped ship before financial failings uncovered

The University and College Union is demanding answers from City College Plymouth about its appointment of Garry Phillips as principal, after his leadership of his former college was slammed by the FE commissioner.

The union has written to the chair of governors at Plymouth asking who approved Mr Phillips’ appointment, whether the selection process was robust and if they are still confident that it was the correct decision.

According to the letter, signed by regional UCU official Philippa Davey and Alison Chapman, branch chair at the college, the union had been “repeatedly told by Garry that he turned Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College around and brought about financial stability”, which Friday’s FE commissioner report had shown to be “untrue”.  

“City College Plymouth is also in a precarious financial position and UCU are under the impression that Garry was recruited by Governors on the basis that he had the experience to reverse this and build both income and quality,” it said.

The letter demands assurances from the eight governors who agreed Mr Phillips’ appointment earlier this year that “they are satisfied that the selection process was safe and robust” and “they are confident it was the correct decision and that they were given the full facts regarding his previous position”.

FE Week contacted the college on Friday to ask if it still backed Mr Phillips, despite the FE commissioner’s findings. We’ve yet to receive a response.

The UCU also calls for a halt to a planned restructure at Plymouth, which is likely to result in redundancies, until they have been “fully scrutinised by governors with experience in finance, quality, curriculum, estates and apprenticeships”.

They also call into question the appointment of a financial consultant, Martin Smith, who worked with Mr Phillips at his former college.

The FE commissioner’s report into EHWLC, published on Friday, revealed a total failure of leadership and governance at the college which Mr Phillips ran until he left in July this year.

The college is now in such a precarious financial state that it is dependent on government bailouts for its survival.

“The relationship between clerk, chair and principal / CEO, those holding power, was over supportive and referred to it as being ‘cosy’, with little challenge and feeling a difficulty in asking questions,” the report said.

As a consequence of these failing, the college had an “immediate need for external cash flow support” and would be “unable to meet its commitments from early October without support”.

According to the college’s published accounts, it went from a £5.7 million surplus in 2015/16, to an £8 million deficit in 2016/17.

“It is recommended that, given prevailing financial concerns and historic financial performance over a number of years, further consideration be given to conducting an external review to test whether there is a sustainable financial position for the college going forward,” the report said.

“This extraordinary report rubbishes claims from Garry Phillips that he turned round his former college,” said Ms Davey

“The governors at City College must take us through the processes that saw him and Martin Smith appointed,” she said.

As principal of EHWLC Mr Phillips was one of the most highly-paid principals in the country. His 31 per cent pay rise in 2016/17, despite the college’s financial difficulties, prompted fury from the UCU earlier this year.