Principal who jumped ship before financial failings exposed leaves his new college

A principal who jumped ship before the financial failings of his previous college were exposed has stepped down from the college he moved onto.

Garry Phillips’ departure from City College Plymouth comes days after members of the FE commissioner’s team visited the college, and a week and a half after a damning FE report into his leadership of Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College was published.

“Today, Garry Phillips decided to step down as principal of City College Plymouth,” the college’s chair Pauline Odulinski said in a statement.

“Regrettably, external pressures on the corporation and Garry have become a material distraction to the college’s core purpose of supporting its students.”

“Garry was appointed in March 2018 following a rigorous process of selection facilitated by an external company and for totally personal reasons decided to accept the Corporation’s offer of employment. 

“In the short period since Garry’s appointment he did a great deal of good work. He has put in place an effective financial improvement plan, which the Corporation believes will place the College’s finances on a sound footing so as to allow it to further improve the strong quality outcomes that have already been successfully delivered. 

“Ben Manning will step into the role of acting principal until an interim and then permanent appointment is made.”

The FE commissioner’s team visited the college for a two day diagnostic assessment on Thursday and Friday, according to an all-staff email sent by Mr Phillips last week and seen by FE Week.

That email said the visit was prompted by the college being in early intervention for financial health by the Education and Skills Funding Agency.

At the same time, members of the University and College Union at the college overwhelming backed a vote of no confidence in Mr Phillips’ leadership on Friday, with 349 out of 350 members voting against him.

UCU regional official Philippa Davey said: “Following Mr Phillips’ departure, it is time to halt his redundancy plans and for the governors to work with us to move forwards”.

“It is frustrating that staff were forced to deliver such a damning no confidence vote in Phillips and the governors for action to be taken. We now need to all work together to help move this fantastic college forward.”

The FE commissioner’s report into EHWLC, which Mr Phillips led until he took up his current role in July, published on November 2, revealed a catalogue of leadership and governance failings.

According to the report, which was based on visits to the college in August, its financial situation was so bad it would be “unable to meet its commitments from early October without support”.

The true picture of the college’s financial difficulties did not become apparent until March this year – the same month that the finance director left, and that Mr Phillips announced his departure.

Governors, senior managers, staff and unions all reported feeling “kept in the dark” or “misled” about the situation, according to the report.

Board members did see management accounts, but “it was clear that the scale of the problem was neither understood nor properly debated”, while reports from Mr Phillips to the board “had little detail or data within them”.

UCU officials at Plymouth wrote to the chair of governors on Monday demanding answers about his appointment – including whether the process was “safe and robust” and whether governors had the “full facts regarding his previous position”.

“I can say that the corporation is confident in the recruitment process it followed to appoint its CEO and it continues to have confidence in his ability to lead the college’s executive function,” Pauline Odulinksi said in her reply.

UCU officials at his former college have also written to him, demanding that he return £100,000 he earned in bonuses over two years and to apologise for the mess he left the college in.

Despite EHWLC’s financial difficulties, Mr Phillips received a 31 per cent pay rise in 2016/17, up to £260,000 – making him the fifth highest paid principal in the country.

An FE Week Freedom of Information request has revealed that Mr Phillips is now paid between £160,000 and £170,000 – an increase of up to 17 per cent on his predecessor’s £145,000 salary.