College staff should receive a 1 per cent pay rise this year, the Association of Colleges has recommended in a move that has outraged trade unions.

In a statement published today, the membership body said it was “disappointing and regrettable that the sector is unable to afford a better offer at this time” but that the “pandemic has changed everything”.

Trade unions had called for a “significant” pay rise for college workers this year after the government injected an additional £400 million into colleges.

But the AoC said it could only recommend a pay rise of 1 per cent or £250, whichever is the greater, because of the unforeseen and “severe financial pressure” colleges are now facing that have “forced many into deficit”.

The association did say that it would “strongly advise that those colleges who can afford to award staff more should do so”, while “we must acknowledge that some colleges may be unable to meet this recommendation”.

But the University and College Union, UNISON, the National Education Union, Unite and GMB said in a joint response that after years of campaigning for more money for staff, now is “not the time for excuses on pay but instead an investment in staff so that further education can provide the skills for a post-Covid recovery”.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Yet again colleges have shown they cannot be trusted to spend public funds in the way they were intended. The joint campaigning was always on the understanding that staff pay would come first.

“UCU members will now find it hard to believe that AoC can be a trusted partner for joint campaigning.”

UNISON head of education Jon Richards added: “College leaders had made clear promises that staff would get a substantial pay rise this year. But they’ve simply ripped these up and raided the wage pot to foot the bill for the pandemic. Pay in the FE sector is simply too low and this offer yet again ignores the value of college staff.”

The unions have called on individual colleges to publicly commit to working towards closing the £7,000 pay gap between school and college teaching staff and introduce the foundation living wage.

The AoC cited Education and Skills Funding Agency officials at last week’s House of Commons Public Accounts Committee hearing saying 64 colleges are at risk of running out of cash.

And on top of extra costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, the association said colleges have “suffered a significant loss of revenue” due to a drop in commercial activity, fee income, and apprenticeships, which has only been “partially” offset by extra government funding.

The AoC also recommended a 1 per cent increase for 2019/20, but promised to accelerate a pay recommendation for the following academic year.

AoC chief executive David Hughes has today argued that every college leader wants staff paid “fairly and adequately” for the work they do, and are “committed” to campaigning for better college funding, which allow pay issues to be addressed.

But, he added, “a decade of neglect and funding cuts have devastated the financial health of the sector”.

While the AoC recommends a pay increase to its members, colleges are independent and make final decision on pay themselves.