Gloucestershire v-c resigns amid conflicting views on financial health

Claim of place on 'road to recovery' not supported by internal figures. Melanie Newman reports

April 1, 2010

The vice-chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire has resigned against a background of disagreements between managers and unions over the best way to return the institution to financial health.

Patricia Broadfoot handed over executive responsibilities to her deputy, Paul Hartley, on 25 March. She will continue to work in an "ambassadorial role" for the university until her retirement on 1 August.

In a message to staff, she says: "Despite recent problems, the university is now firmly positioned on the road to recovery and I feel it is the right time for me to step down."

However, a 2010-11 budget update discussed by Gloucestershire's planning and resources committee on 15 March says that the university is "nearly £8 million adrift" from its target to have a £2 million surplus next year.

The figures "represent a fall of £7.1 million on the forecast position for the current financial year", the document states.

The university's 2008-09 financial statements - among the last in the sector to be published - show a £6.3 million deficit on an income of £67.4 million.

The results blame an £8.9 million increase in net pension liabilities, higher staff costs and a "slower than anticipated return on investment in new activities" for the shortfall.

In addition, a voluntary redundancy programme in 2009 cost the institution £2.95 million.

The accounts also reveal that the university has long-term borrowings of £31.6 million and a debt-to-income ratio of 56 per cent.

It plans to reduce this to the sector average of 35 per cent via a "planned estate rationalisation".

The University and College Union is arguing with the university over its plans to use profits from the sale of its London campus last year to restructure rather than to pay off debt.

Shortly before Professor Broadfoot's resignation, Gloucestershire's managers announced plans to restructure the university, creating three faculties on as many sites.

The new structure will be set up on 1 August, although departmental moves will not take place until summer 2011.

A UCU spokesman said: "The vice-chancellor has presided over a period of unprecedented poor industrial relations and has attempted to circumvent the agreed policies, procedures and consultation channels in an attempt to steamroller changes that do not address the cause of its financial crisis - debt."

The university's salary bill is average for the sector and below average for institutions with comparable turnovers, he added.

A Gloucestershire spokesman said: "The university will be considering carefully how it may use any proceeds from the sale of assets to reduce its debt and to ensure that the move to three campuses is appropriately resourced."

Meanwhile, the university council's vice-chairman and chairman of its finance committee has handed in his resignation after less than eight months in post.

The news of Malcolm Bell's resignation was described as "sudden and unexpected" by one university insider.

Gloucestershire said: "Where members of council have resigned, this has, without exception, been because of personal circumstances."

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