Governance and Accountability in the FE Sector
Response from UNISON Scotland to the Scottish Executive Consultation
UNISON Scotland is a trade union, representing the majority
of support staff working in Scottish Further Education Colleges.
Our members include managerial, administrative and technical
staff, dealing with business development, finance, personnel
matters, support services, admissions, information provision,
advertising, European Social Fund; board secretaries, librarians,
staff in flexible study centres, careers staff, nurses, nursery
nurses, drivers, personal assistants for students with learning
or physical disabilities, general administration, secretarial
and clerical staff, janitorial, cleaning, catering and maintenance
UNISON Scotland welcomes the Scottish Executive's review of
Governance and Accountability in the Further Education Sector
and is pleased to be invited to make comments on the consultation
UNISON believes it is important for the sector to be able to
demonstrate good governance and management of the public funds
granted to Scottish Further Education Colleges.
In addition, however, we want board members to be properly
trained and aware of the range of their responsibilities. In
particular we feel that board members should be aware that they
are employers of thousands of staff, both teaching and support
staff, across Scotland. This means that they should have a working
knowledge of current human resource issues and current legislation
affecting their employees, such as the Race Relations Act, Sex
Discrimination and Equal Pay legislation; Family Friendly legislation,
Working Time Regulations, Health & Safety at Work Act, etc.
UNISON wants those members of staff who are
members of College Boards of Governors to be afforded equal
status with other board members, and given appropriate time
off, by providing the necessary cover arrangements to enable
them to carry out their responsibilities as efficiently as possible.
UNISON is willing to look at this in a spirit
of partnership, recognising that staff are equal stakeholders
in the proper governance of Further Education Colleges.
Appointment of Board Members
UNISON Scotland would support the standardisation of appointments
procedures under guidelines drawn up by SFEFC, which must demonstrate
openness, transparency and impartiality, whilst allowing local
flexibility so that local circumstances can be addressed in
an appropriate way.
We see no reason why local boards should not retain the ability
to appoint new members, whilst ensuring the principles above
are adhered to.
We feel the 12-year limit on board membership is too long and
that a shorter maximum term should be introduced which would
create a better balance between experience and the new skills
needed to bring a fresh approach to the boards. We think a better
time limit would be 5 to 8 years.
Securing the Right Skills Mix
UNISON Scotland supports the current requirement for college
boards to include people with professional, commercial, industrial
or employment experience but would place greater emphasis on
the need for board members to have experience of employment
issues, particularly in the human resource field. Local Councils
and Local Enterprise companies would fall into this category.
UNISON would wish board members to appreciate the need to recognise
that they are the employers of thousands of staff throughout
Scotland, both teaching and support staff and they need to be
aware that the decisions they are required to take affects the
livelihoods and wellbeing of their staff. They are not there
to rubberstamp decisions taken by other people, they must make
the decisions themselves.
UNISON is aware that there are members of both teaching and
support staff who sit on college boards, but they are often
not given equal status with other board members. Staff members
need to be treated as equal stakeholders in the college structure,
and as board members, given the necessary training and time
off to enable them to fulfil their roles to the best of their
ability. This would need to be done by providing cover for the
times they were away from their normal jobs.
Guidance, Induction, Training and Development
UNISON welcomes recognition of the need to improve induction
and introduce ongoing training for members of college boards
To fulfil their role as employer we would wish to emphasise
the need for board members to be familiar with current employment
legislation such as the Race Relations Act, sex and disability
discrimination acts, equal pay legislation, family friendly
requirements, health and safety law, etc.
We believe that the introduction of standard guidance on Staff
Governance, possibly using the framework adopted by the NHS
as a model, would be one way to fill this gap.
UNISON believes that appropriate training packages should be
drawn up by the SFEFC who should have the responsibility of
ensuring that such training is carried out in all Further Education
Colleges across Scotland. This would provide consistency of
approach in all Further Education Colleges, and ensure that
the training given was of the highest quality.
Facilitating improvements in Governance and Management
The position of Board Secretary is a very important role in
a Further Education College, as they organise the board meetings
and enable them to carry out their business. However, we feel
that the secretary to the Board should have a more professional
role, being someone who can give independent, impartial advice
to the Board on meeting its legal responsibilities and ensuring
that it operates within its constitution and stated policies.
The post should have less emphasis on the clerical, minute taking,
administrative responsibilities, involved with organising Board
meetings whilst ensuring that competent members of staff carry
The person appointed should not necessarily be a member of
the board, who is intimately involved in strategic and operational
matters as we believe this could compromise the independence
and impartiality of the secretary.
We would support the creation of a centre of expertise to provide
resource materials on good practice, experiences, etc., and
believe this would best be organised by the SFEFC, working in
partnership with all stakeholders, including trade unions in
the FE Sector.
Ministers' Power to Remove or Replace Board Members
UNISON believes that the current powers of Scottish Ministers
to remove or replace a member of a College Board are adequate,
when considered along with the powers of the boards themselves
to self-regulate. If proper cognisance were taken of the overall
functioning of the board, any lesser infringements of propriety
should be dealt with at that level.
Possible SFEFC Powers to Intervene Directly in Cases
of Poor Governance
UNISON believes that the role of SFEFC should be strengthened
to give it the direct power to intervene when problems are seen
to arise. We favour Ministers delegating some of their powers,
such as Section 21, to SFEFC to enable them to give directions
to boards in cases of poor governance, providing consistency
across Scotland. We see merit in considering a similar power
to that afforded to the Learning and Skills Council in England
to appoint up to two members of the governing body of a Further
Education College. We also support providing SFEFC with the
right to send observers to college board and committee meetings.
SFEFC Accountable Officer's Limited Powers to ensure
Propriety and Value for Money in the Stewardship of Public Funds
UNISON supports a review of the Financial Memorandum between
SFEFC and each college board to require the college Accountable
Officer to provide information to the Chief Executive of SFEFC
on demand, or to report to the Chief Executive on matters relating
to financial propriety and value for money.
UNISON also supports an amendment to current arrangements for
the appointment of local Accountable Officers in each college,
so that the SFEFC Chief Executive would have to confirm, prior
to the appointment of a new Principal/Accountable Officer, that
the proposed designation of the new officer was acceptable.
In addition, if subsequently, new evidence arose casting doubts
on the propriety of a designated Accountable Officer, then we
would support powers for the SFEFC Chief Executive to advise
the board of that situation, subject to appropriate process
and appeal arrangements, in keeping with the principles of natural
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835