Breaking: Hull College Group chief executive departs after financial mess exposed

Hull College Group has announced the departure of its chief executive Gary Warke, bringing to an end weeks of speculation after the FE Commissioner exposed a £10 million deficit there over four years.

A statement was sent to FE Week 15 minutes ago on behalf of the chair of governors Pat Tomlinson.

She said: “On behalf of the college corporation, I can confirm that Gary Warke, group chief executive, has decided to leave the college to explore new career opportunities.

“This coincides with a point where the area based review process is virtually complete and the group embarks on a new strategic plan.

“The corporation would like to thank Gary for his service to the college and commitment to FE and wish him every success. In turn, Gary wishes the college well for the future.”

She added: “Michelle Swithenbank, as deputy CEO, together with the leadership team will lead the college forward to develop and deliver those new plans.”

It comes after FE Week reported on February 14 that the group had repeatedly refused to publicly back Mr Warke, after he was urged to resign following a damning FE Commissioner report.

Commissioner Richard Atkins’ team was sent in to carry out an emergency assessment, after the Skills Funding Agency issued it with a notice of concern last November.

The resulting report, published in early February, warned that the senior leadership team had not succeeded in addressing a steady decline in financial performance, recognising a “cumulative deficit of around £10 million over the past four years” with its operating performance.

It added that “a further deficit in excess of £1m is forecast for the current year.”

It sparked widespread dismay and a call by the University and College Union for Mr Warke  to stand down.

A spokesperson for the union claimed at the time that “at an extraordinary staff meetings held at the college today, the chair of governers Pat Tomlinson was vague about CEO Gary Warke’s position.”

UCU regional official, Julie Kelley, told FE Week this morning: “The recent report from the further education commissioner made it quite clear that Mr Warke’s position was no longer tenable.

“Staff and students need a new management team in post prepared to put the educational needs of local people first. A good college is one that offers a varied curriculum and we hope that Hull College will now reassess its primary function and focus on supporting staff to deliver education to students.”

The SFA issued Hull with a notice of concern on November 11 last year, triggering the visit from Mr Atkins’ team.

The subsequent report explained that the notice was issued because the college had been rated ‘inadequate’ by the SFA for financial health (based on its 2016 to 2018 financial plan) and had also requested exceptional financial support.

It revealed that “the college intends to put in place a different management structure in early 2017”, including a newly appointed “‘turnaround director’ to help to deliver financial recovery”.

It added: “Although the senior leadership team has a range of skills and experience, it has not succeeded in addressing key issues facing the college, including steady decline in financial performance and loss of market share.

“There is concern at all levels of the organisation that the college lacks strategic vision and strong, resolute leadership and that this is frustrating and demotivating for staff.”

Mr Atkins’ report made a number of recommendations, including instructions for the corporation to “respond accordingly in relation to leadership and governance”.

FE Week previously reported, in May last year, that Mr Warke had been accused of trying to bully a member of the shadow cabinet for supporting a staff strike action.

Karl Turner, who is the MP for Kingston upon Hull, joined “angry and demoralised” Hull College workers on the picket that week in a row over pay and a controversial new lesson observation system.

He subsequently called for an investigation into Mr Warke, after he was allegedly sent a “threatening and derogatory” letter. Mr Warke declined to comment any further on the matter.

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