Blunkett demands inquiry into Cricklade

August 6, 1999

Education secretary David Blunkett has invoked special powers for the first time to order an immediate investigation into mismanagement at Cricklade College, writes Phil Baty.

Mr Blunkett has ordered the Further Education Funding Council to undertake a "quick and thorough" investigation into a string of allegations against Cricklade, including the alleged victimisation of trade union activist Andrew Murray.

Mr Murray was sacked after he blew the whistle on large-scale mismanagement at the college. Mr Blunkett's move comes more than a year after The THES first revealed allegations of Mr Murray's victimisation.

Although Mr Murray has lost all appeals against his dismissal through redundancy, the allegations that he first brought to light led last week to the dismissal of Cricklade's principal, Richard Evans.

Mr Evans was found by governors to have mismanaged European Social Fund projects in a way that "prejudiced the interests of the college and damaged fundamentally the trust and confidence the corporation needs to have in its chief executive".

Mr Blunkett said he hoped the investigation would draw a line under the events and ensure that Cricklade can move forward. He has asked the FEFC to examine claims of trade union victimisation, "possible irregularities over European funding", the delay over the dismissal of the principal, who remained suspended on full pay for more than a year, and concerns over quality and standards.

It is the first time that Mr Blunkett has invoked section 57 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 to force direct intervention into a college's affairs. Section 57 can only be invoked by a secretary of state when he or she is satisfied there has been mismanagement or a failure of governance.

These powers have been used three times before under the previous administration.

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