WEST Midlands regional official Paul Mackney is the new general secretary of Natfhe, Britain's largest lecturers' union. He marked his ballot victory with a pledge to carry out a thorough modernisation.
Mr Mackney beat off four other candidates to secure the highest vote in a ballot of Natfhe's 66,000 members. He secured 7,367 votes, Vicky Seddon gained 5,084 votes, Fawzi Abrahim 3,202, Andrea Kenneally 1,994 and Kate Heasman 1,701. The turn-out was 23.9 per cent, marginally up on the last general secretary election.
The union's top post has been vacant since John Akker took early retirement in May. Mr Mackney, a Labour party member, brings considerable experience to the post. He has been a union member for 23 years and a regional official since 1992. He was president of Birmingham TUC from 1980-84.
It will be a testing role for Mr Mackney. Natfhe membership has been falling over the past few years, losing an estimated 4,000 in the past year alone, largely due to redundancies in the further education sector.
The fall in membership has contributed to financial problems and the union is taking steps to tackle a Pounds 170,000 projected deficit by the end of this year. The sector remains financially weak and more redundancies are possible.
Mr Mackney has set himself ambitious priorities. His top four are: modernisation while retaining the union's founding principles; making a new start with employers; negotiating new partnerships with other unions; ending the use of temporary contracts and the "abuse" of part-time lecturers and agency staff.
Modernisation could put Mr Mackney on a collision course with some of the union's hardline activists, as could a move to work more closely with other unions, particularly the Association of University Teachers. Attempting to stop the use of temporary contracts and reduce colleges' reliance on casual agency staff could meet opposition from employers.
Mr Mackney said: "It is a tough job but there is an awful lot of goodwill for an incoming general secretary. The union has had a number of problems but basically it is sound at the roots. There is a job to be done and I am confident that, with the support of members, we can take this union forward, placing it at the heart of debate at what will be a time of great change in post-16 education."
David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, said: "For the first time in quite a while a strong personality has emerged in further education, steeped in its traditions, who can address the needs of that beleaguered sector. Those of us in higher education can look forward to a productive working relationship."