Payment stoppages pose legal problems

November 12, 1999

Ministers' clampdown on salary payments to suspended college managers will create a legal minefield, the Association of Colleges has warned.

Following a string of scandals in which suspended college managers received hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money before being removed from office in disgrace, the government announced in May this year that it would change college rules to clamp down on the practice. Colleges, however, are likely to ignore the moves on legal grounds.

College articles of governance have now been changed to remove the requirement that suspended staff must always receive full pay. Education minister Tessa Blackstone hailed the measure as part of "decisive action" to ensure the highest standards when the Public Accounts Committee reported its "serious concern" that Halton College governors had paid more than Pounds 200,000 salary to the suspended principal and his deputy before they left the college in disgrace.

"Now colleges will no longer be compelled to pay a principal or any other member of staff who is suspended," she said.

But college leaders have warned that colleges that act on the new provision and withhold pay from suspended principals or other staff could end up breaking the law. Such action could also break the guidelines of conciliation service ACAS.

"The AoC advises extreme caution in the exercise of this new provision," a circular warned this week. "Most colleges' disciplinary procedures state that suspension will be with full pay, therefore to suspend without pay could result in unfair dismissal and/or breach-of-contract claims."

The AoC points to the code of practice on discipline from ACAS. It said that as contracts can be changed only by agreement, "it is unlikely that there will be sufficient business reasons for colleges to re-engage on the new terms, if an agreement cannot be reached on this issue".

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