A bold dash and grab

September 11, 1998

Lecturers at Matthew Boulton College of Further and Higher Education are upset at the size of the pay-off awarded to their former principal, Tony Colton, who officially left his post late last month.

The Birmingham college faces a multimillion-pound deficit, a mass redundancy scheme and potential ruin, but Mr Colton can look forward to a happy retirement with a pension based on a Pounds 70,000-plus salary and a two-year enhancement awarded as part of his golden goodbye. What is more, he secured this by skirting rules of governance. Some minutes of governors meetings have gone missing from the college library, but those that remain tell a strange tale.

In July 1997, the college's governors discussed Mr Colton's request to be granted premature retirement. The governors "reluctantly agreed to recommend to the corporation that this request be approved", the minutes record. There is no mention of Mr Colton's leaving the meeting, although rules of governance state he should have left the room.

The committee also decided to "include two years' enhancement to (Mr Colton's) service for superannuation purposes". This broke funding council regulations, which state that such enhancements should be used only to encourage someone who is reluctant to retire to do so and should be kept as low as possible: "Any extra years' service that are offered should be no more than is necessary to entice the particular teacher in question to retire prematurely." Mr Colton wanted to go.

Furthermore, the terms of Mr Colton's retirement were changed after the governors had made the resolution. In a July 1997 governors meeting, they resolved that Mr Colton should take the retirement, with his two-year enhancement, in July 1998. But in a corporation meeting four months later, it is recorded that Mr Colton's "leaving date will be August 31, 1998, and the pension enhancement will be two years and 57 days to give 40 years' service". The previous resolution had been changed to postpone Mr Colton's leaving by a month and to add 57 days to his enhancement. Under colleges' instruments of government, governors' resolutions must not be "rescinded or varied" in subsequent meetings "unless consideration of the recision or variation is a specific item of business on the agenda for that meeting". Mr Colton's pay-off was not on the agenda - it came up under "matters arising".

While Mr Colton was discussing his early retirement pay-off, the college's remuneration committee recommended to the governors that he should be given "an increase in salary" from July 1, 1997, ensuring an even larger pension. The clerk to this remuneration committee - who must be independent of governors and the executive - was Mr Colton. The minutes do not record who said what. No figure for this rise, on top of a Pounds 70,000 salary, has ever been made public.

Mr Colton has not returned The THES's calls. New principal Christine Braddock has commissioned an inquiry into these events.

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