Governors censure ex-head

April 18, 1997

FORMER Stoke-on-Trent College boss Neil Preston faces accusations of bullying, serious misconduct and wilful neglect of his duties in a damning governors' report.

It says that Mr Preston was fired from his Pounds 90,000 a year job last December because he was guilty of "serious and consistent breaches of his contract of employment".

Helen Chandler, who was sacked as marketing and programme planning director at the same time, lost her job because of "gross misconduct, gross negligence or gross incompetence".

The report, by the further education college's governing corporation, lists ten separate allegations made by staff against Mr Preston. They include his treatment of staff and students, financial management, overseas visits and unprofessional behaviour.

It says that 34 out of the college's 40 senior and middle managers had resigned, taken early or ill health retirement due to pressure, coercion and stress.

Any dissent from the actions proposed by Mr Preston and Mrs Chandler were "stifled through open hostility or ridicule of the dissenter in front of the rest of the senior management team".

Mr Preston and Mrs Chandler had a personal relationship, according to the report. The couple took sick leave, due to stress, in September but were later found to be running a pub in Wales.

They are thought to be taking the college to industrial tribunal, possibly claiming unfair dismissal.

The report, published last Friday, is a summary of the governor's conclusions following a Coopers and Lybrand report into the running of the college. It reveals that the college over-estimated funding units for 1995/96 by a fifth. Stoke must cut Pounds 8 million from its budget and may have to axe up to 190 jobs in order to balance the books.

Corporation chairman Kevin Farrell said: "We desperately need to get back to the business of education and putting quality into the education we provide. By that we will restore the reputation of the college among local people and so achieve growth within the system."

The Further Education Funding Council's inspection report of the college was also published last week. It praised staff for delivering a generally sound education despite the "serious failings" in the leadership and the institution's "severe financial difficulties".

A draft recovery plan has been produced to tackle the debt and a series of actions will be taken.

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