Call for investigation as Warwickshire College principal takes sudden leave

Warwickshire College principal Mariane Cavali. Picture submitted. ENGNNL00120121017164132
Warwickshire College principal Mariane Cavali. Picture submitted. ENGNNL00120121017164132

Warwickshire College has been urged to open up its accounts after its principal suddenly took leave last week.

Marianne Cavalli’s “temporary leave of absence” came just weeks after the college group announced it faces a financial shortfall of £3 million.

It has been revealed the boss’s pay shot up by £50,000 in two years – and now nearly 100 jobs are now at risk of redundancy across its sites. Some 2,500 students attend its Rugby campus in Technology Drive, while it also operates in towns including Leamington and Warwick.

The University and College Union is concerned about the situation – and is demanding that the college opens its books to public scrutiny. Anne O’Sullivan, the union’s regional official, said: “Almost 100 members of staff at the college might lose their jobs, pay has been driven down in recent years and yet we are starting to uncover details of massive pay rises for a principal now on leave and for other senior managers.”

The union says the college pays £35,000 a year to be a member of the Gazelle group of colleges. Gazelle was founded in 2011 by five college principals including Ms Cavalli. It cites reports stating the college has spent more than £200,000 on purchasing shares in Gazelle Transform Ltd and a further £324,000 for services in connection with developing a ‘new education concept’ with Gazelle Global Ltd.

In May, Ms Cavalli said a funding shortfall of £3 million made job losses at the college seem “inevitable”. On June 19 the college wrote to the union to say that up to 99 jobs were at risk of redundancy.

The union official added: “The college needs to open its books up and explain why such large sums were given to the Gazelle group of colleges and what new education concepts are and why they cost £324,000.

“We also need to know what has been spent on overseas travel and expenses, why senior managers got such big pay rises and who is getting a bonus on top of their salary and why.”

Ms Cavalli, who took up her role as principal and chief executive officer in 2010, has been replaced on an interim basis by former chair of governors Sue Georgious. No explanation has been given as to why Ms Cavalli took her leave of absence.

The union learned about Ms Cavalli’s pay rise through a request under the Freedom of Information act. It also discovered that one unnamed senior manager had a bonus of £15,000 – but that staff have seen their real-terms pay fall by 16 per cent in the past five years and this year were offered another below-inflation pay rise of one per cent.

Ms O’Sullivan added: “The time has come for proper scrutiny of colleges’ spending.”

“We would urge the Commons Public Accounts Committee to properly investigate how taxpayers’ money is being spent by our colleges.”

Madelyn McAlpine, PR and communications officer for the college, said Warwickshire College responded to the union’s request for information in good faith and as required by legislation.

“We have no further comment to make on the contents of the FOI at this time,” she added.

“It should be noted that the Governing Board has in place robust internal and external audit processes for financial matters as required by governance arrangements in place across the Further Education sector.”

The college’s board of governors said in a statement: “The board appointed the interim principal following due process and with the appropriate legal advice. This appointment is on an interim basis in order to ensure business as usual at the college.

“All colleges face financial challenges and Warwickshire College is no different. A dual strategy of cost saving and growth over the next three year period has been underway for some time linked with the development of a new five- year strategic vision and plan. The board is taking a robust and realistic approach to this in the current financial environment in order to strengthen and build a sustainable future for the college going forward.”