Treasury will subsidise college wages – but under what circumstances?

2 Apr 2020, 23:23

The good news is a spokesperson from the Treasury told FE Week that staff working in areas of a college that are not primarily funded by the government and who cannot be redeployed would be eligible for the coronavirus job retention scheme.

So college leaders now have reassurance they will be successful in their applications to HMRC for the 80 per cent wages subsidy.

Or will they?

Without detailed HMRC criteria, something that does not appear to be coming anytime soon, it presents colleges with many potential interpretations of the rules.

As a leading HR lawyer warns, colleges will need to be cautious given the “potentially serious reputational risks if a publicly funded entity is perceived to be unfairly taking advantage of a taxpayer funded scheme”.

But as David Hughes, chief executive at the Association of College points out: “Quick decisions are required by college leaders and their governing bodies.”

And as we report this week, our survey found some colleges are planning to furlough up to a quarter of all staff in a wide range of roles in many departments.

One vice principal at a college in the south west said they plan to start with furloughing 50 staff “in the very short term, but could extend to up to 300 staff”.

There does appear to be a consensus, even from the lawyer, that commercial and apprenticeship delivery staff, where there is no delivery or funding, would be eligible for the scheme.

But what about grounds staff or college shop staff or cleaners?

The Department for Education will certainly be hoping the Treasury take a broad definition when it comes to HRMC reviewing the applications.

Or do they?

Like the lawyer they also urge caution, contacting FE Week to point out there must still be sufficient college resource to support the vulnerable and children of key workers.

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