Top dogs pass on pain of job cuts

July 23, 1999

Unions fear for members' positions following LJMU management shuffle

Funding council officials have visited Liverpool John Moores University as the institution faces growing unrest over a looming financial crisis and threatened job losses.

Kate Murray, regional official for the Higher Education Funding Council for England, visited the university last week to talk to senior staff, including vice-chancellor Peter Toyne. A HEFCE spokesman said it was a routine visit to discuss financial issues and corporate planning.

The funding council's visit coincided with upheavals and staff disquiet at the university. Professor Toyne announced recently that he must make savings in the face of a Pounds 2.5 million a year funding gap. Senior staff say that Ms Murray's visit was not routine.

Professor Toyne has told staff that savings would have to be made in the order of Pounds 2.5 million "in each of the next three years". He later denied that this meant a total three-year funding gap of Pounds 7.5 million. Despite the confusion, Professor Toyne has made it clear that staffing - the single biggest cost to the university - will be hit.

His first "target" has been the senior management structure. But Professor Toyne's decisions here have baffled less senior staff. Redundancy notices were issued to all six assistant provosts, working under provost Jennifer Latto. Each of the assistant provosts was being paid about Pounds 45,000 a year. If they had gone, the university could look forward to recurrent savings of some Pounds 0,000 a year, excluding any redundancy payments.

But it emerged last week that they had been invited to apply for three academic director jobs, each with salaries of about Pounds 50,000. A fourth remains as Professor Latto's assistant, on his assistant provost salary, while a fifth goes to the business school retaining his assistant provost salary. The sixth took early retirement, but it is likely that he will continue to work part time or as a consultant for an undisclosed amount. Excluding the person who took early retirement, there has been a net increase in salary costs for this group of about Pounds 15,000 a year.

Lecturers' union Natfhe and Unison, which represents administrative, clerical and manual staff, were told by Professor Toyne that changing senior management would be the beginning not the end of the process. But given that there has not yet been a major shakeout at senior levels, the unions fear that their members will bear the brunt of any job losses. They plan to ballot for industrial action after the summer recess. They are also threatening to hold a vote of confidence in Professor Toyne.

Union members and many senior academics are angered and confused by the fact that the Pounds 2.5 million shortfall had been clearly forecast for the past five years. Yet in that time, Professor Toyne increased the numbers of highly paid senior managers at assistant provost and registrar level in 1994 and in 1997-98.

Also being questioned is the wisdom of the university's expansion in the past five years. The university has invested heavily in Liverpool, including a development at Twelve Quays in Birkenhead and the redevelopment of the former Northern Hotel in the city centre. The university has said that it had to spend millions of pounds over the past ten years to bring the former Liverpool Polytechnic buildings up to scratch.

A spokesman for the joint unions group, representing Unison, Natfhe and the GMB, said: "The unions are angry because the vice-chancellor and senior managers admit that this crisis has been looming for several years. We believe it is entirely wrong that the same senior managers who have presided over this financial situation should now seek to remedy it."

The remedy is likely to involve amalgamations of LJMU's 15 schools. This may mean closing courses that are not recruiting many students. Staff are braced for redundancies as part of this.

But there are fears at the university that the financial situation may not improve. The LJMU cuts come in the face of a slump in applications.

The latest figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that, as of June 30, overall applications for courses starting in September were 9.6 per cent below those at the same time last year. This compares with a 3 per cent fall nationally.

Applications for LJMU degree courses were down by 9.3 per cent while applications to higher national diploma courses were down by 17.4 per cent.

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