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Issue:- 17 May  2012


FURTHER education colleges spent at least £65 million on agency staff last year, according to new figures released on Friday, 11 May 2012.   Information obtained by UNISON, under the freedom of information act, shows that 170 colleges that replied to the union's request spent a combined total of £64,613,485 on agency staff. There are 251 FE colleges, meaning the total bill will be even higher.  The disclosures come as hardworking college staff have seen their incomes fall in real terms by up to £3,100 over two years, and the cost of living rise by 9.4%. They are also facing the constant threat of job cuts.  The unions are warning colleges that using agencies is a particularly wasteful way of employing staff. Agencies regularly charge fees as much as three times the cost of directly employing a member of staff. Colleges also have to pay 20% VAT on agency bills, but do not have to pay this tax when they directly employ workers.  Colleges with the highest spend on agency staff include Bolton College, which recently announced plans to introduce £7,000 pay cuts for some teaching staff. Leeds City College, Rotherham College of Arts and Technology, Lewisham College, City College Birmingham and the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London all spent over £2m on agencies. UNISON and the University and College Union (UCU) will be raising this issue with employers when they meet them. UNISON head of education, Jon Richards, said:- "Colleges are claiming that they cannot afford to relieve the pressure on workers and their families by giving them a pay rise. These staff will be rightly shocked that colleges have tens of millions to spend on agency workers and on VAT bills. This is a disgraceful waste of money. It is time for colleges to stop wasting money and mange their budgets so they can pay workers fairly and safeguard jobs." 

UCU head of further education, Barry Lovejoy, said:- "Staff, who for the last two years have been forced to suffer real-term pay cuts, will be astonished to see the amount of money colleges have spent on agencies. How can institutions use the funding uncertainties in further education as an excuse to keep salaries down and at the same time sign all this money off?"

Housing investigation raises fears about rogue landlords

PUBLIC sector cuts are hampering the ability of some councils to crack down on rogue landlords according to an investigation carried out by Environmental Health News, the magazine of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH).

The findings of the investigation will be discussed at a major Housing Conference on 17 May 2012.

One respondent says:- "we generally have no budget to prosecute", another notes that their authority has been unable to take "any notices through to prosecution stage" since 2009 because their legal department is so small.

Other comments focus on the impact of severe staff shortages. One council has "practically disbanded its private sector housing team and another has a single EHP covering 2 authorities with large geographical areas following a restructure."

One EHP remarks there has been increase in the number of landlords refusing to undertake improvement or remedial work in the last 2 years.

Commenting, David Kidney, CIEH Head of Policy, said:- "This survey confirms our worst fears – that many councils are finding it increasingly difficult to conduct investigations due to cutbacks in government housing expenditure. This is impairing the ability of EHOs to tackle abuses in the private rented sector."

David added that it made no sense to cut back investment in housing. "As we have said it makes no 'economic' sense to cut back investment in housing. The equation is a simple one: poor housing leads to poor health which leads to longer NHS queues which ends up putting a further squeeze the nation's resources. The government's obsession with cutting spending is putting some of the most vulnerable people at risk. We must have an informed, evidence based discussion about housing in this country."

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