FORMAL procedures to axe over 50 jobs at South Eastern Regional College have been proposed in response to ‘significant budget pressures’. 

Local college staff at the Bangor, Holywood, Newtownards and Ballynahinch campuses were notified this week that redundancies for 37 full time workers and 27 part time workers would be made in a bid to address the budget shortfall.   

With the college facing an estimated budget pressure of £7.086m for 2024/25, council bosses have proposed cutting jobs across all sites including Downpatrick, Lisburn, Newcastle.

However, the proposed redundancies, that have been announced just weeks before Christmas, have provoked a furious reaction from union officials who say the college is ‘reducing the head count’ because of pressures from the Department of Economy and not because ‘work is disappearing’.

The redundancy announcement comes just two months after college bosses informed staff at the further education colleges of potential job losses as staff took to the picket line over an ongoing pay dispute.

In a letter issued to staff this week,  Ken Webb, SERC  principal and chief executive, acknowledged the job cut plans would be ‘unwelcome news and whist not unexpected, may be unsettling’ for workers.

However the college chief said that despite taking ‘significant number of steps’ to address the budget shortfall, ‘regretfully’ the anticipated budget pressure going into the next financial year could ‘only be addressed by reducing the staffing complement’.

According to a document sent to staff,  the further education (FE) sector is facing recurrent financial pressures totalling £35m for 23/24. This pressure comprised £29m of what were called ‘inescapable pressures’ and £6m for non contractual pay, including outstanding 2023/24 teaching and non-teaching staff pay settlements.

SERC currently employs 833 permanent staff and 156 part time lecturers across all the colleges and the redundancy process is expected to be completed between March and June next year.

Mr Webb said it is anticipated that the proposed redundancies will be achieved entirely through volunteers and he does not envisage any requirement for compulsory redundancy.

The college is expected to hold a consultation meeting with trade union representatives at the start of December to discuss the proposals, with the college principal saying he was looking forward to ‘meaningful and constructive engagement with the recognised trade unions’.

The University and College Union (UCU) said it had received notification from five of the six colleges that they intended to operate a redundancy scheme.

Katharine Clarke, UCU Northern Ireland official, said they would not accept further cuts to education services.

“What the employers are telling us is they are making these redundancies because they are being forced into it by the Department for the Economy,” she said.

“It is about reducing the head count, it is not that work is disappearing.”

“All the colleges are telling us they are going to open a voluntary redundancy scheme in mid December but they have only started the 30-day consultation now. It is a fait accompli, they are not consulting us.

“It is just a lip service exercise. If they continue this path the trade unions will have a basis to bring a complaint before an industrial tribunal for failure to properly consult under Article 216 of the Employment Rights Order.”