The Association of Colleges has expressed regret for offering staff a one-per-cent payrise – and has come in for heavy criticism from the unions for its trouble.

“We wish we were in a position to make a better recommendation today, but current funding levels for colleges do not allow us to do so,” claimed AoC boss David Hughes.

“We will work closely with the unions in the coming months to campaign for fair funding for colleges and address the under investment which the sector has faced for too long.”

The National Joint Forum, made up of the unions representing college staff, submitted a claim for an across-the-board rise of around 6 per cent in April.

But the final offer made by the AoC, which represents college leaders, was just one per cent, or the sum of £250 “where this is more beneficial”.

Mr Hughes insisted that the AoC shared the views of the unions that a skilled and well rewarded workforce is critical to the future success of FE.

“A major part of the AoC case for better funding to government is to allow the reward packages colleges can offer to be competitive,” said Mr Hughes.

“Every college wants to attract and retain the best people, but it is clear that cuts to FE funding over the last decade have disproportionately hit colleges, impacting directly on their ability to reward staff.”

As part of the pay offer, the AoC has agreed to campaign with the FE unions to “close the gap with schools and address the fundamental recruitment and retention challenges in the sector”.

He also wants to meet unions again in January to review any wider developments on public sector pay and the “funding position of the sector at that time”.

Police and prison officers learned earlier this month that they would will this year receive a pay rise above the one-per-cent cap imposed on the rest of the public sector.

An AoC spokesperson told FE Week its own one-per-cent offer was made independently of the cap, which doesn’t cover colleges’ pay, and that it had been forced to focus on “affordability within a tough funding environment for colleges”.

Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, described the offer as “hugely disappointing”.

“It will do little to lift workers out of debt and poverty, particularly as colleges are under no obligation to implement it,” he said.

“Many college employees have had to take on second jobs or borrow money from family or friends as they struggle to pay their bills.

“Colleges know good salaries are vital to attract and retain staff. But if the government continues to underfund further education, workers will seek employment elsewhere.”

Earlier this month, UCU wrote to principals of FE colleges urging them to instruct their negotiators to make an acceptable offer at yesterday’s pay talks.

“Members will be extremely disappointed that once again the employer offer of one per cent is substantially below inflation and fails to address the years of pay suppression which FE staff have endured,” claimed its head of further education, Andrew Harden.

“Although the pledge to campaign with joint trade unions for more investment in the sector is welcome and necessary, it does not ease the immediate hardship faced by many dedicated staff.

“There is now clear agreement on both sides that pay in FE is a problem, but the real question for the sector is what we are going to do about it.”

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