DEMANDS are being made for struggling Warwickshire College to open up its books after a union probe uncovered evidence of “lavish spending” of taxpayers’ money.
It included a £50,000 pay rise for principal Mariane Cavalli, whose salary leapt from around £170,000 in 2011 to about £230,000 this year, and who the college has just announced has taken a ‘temporary leave of absence’. No explanation why has been given.
The news comes just a month after it was revealed a £3million shortfall in funding meant nearly 100 jobs were at risk of redundancy from college sites in Leamington, Warwick, Henley, Moreton Morrell, Rugby and Pershore.
At the time Ms Cavalli – who took over at the college in 2010 after a stint at Croydon College – described the job losses as “inevitable”.
The University and College Union (UCU) discovered details of Ms Cavalli’s pay rise through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
And the FOI also revealed more than £500,000 had been paid to the Gazelle group, co-founded by Ms Cavalli and five other principals in 2011.
The group – which claims to develop innovative new learning models and new partnerships with businesses – received £324,000 from Warwickshire College for new ‘education concepts’. The college has also spent more than £200,000 purchasing shares in Gazelle Transform Ltd and pays a £35,000 annual membership fee.
A senior manager at the college was also given a bonus of £15,000.
In contrast the FOI request found college staff had seen their real-term wage fall by 16 per cent in the past five years and were recently offered a below inflation pay rise of one per cent.
UCU regional spokeswoman Anne O’Sullivan 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 college needs to open its books up and explain why such large sums were given to the Gazelle group of colleges, 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.
“The time has come for proper scrutiny of colleges’ spending. We would urge the Public Accounts Committee to properly investigate how taxpayers’ money is being spent by our colleges.”
The college – which has around 16,000 studying at its various sites – released a statement this week.
It read: “The board of governors of Warwickshire College can confirm the principal and CEO Mariane Cavalli has taken a temporary leave of absence from the college with immediate effect.
“The governing body has appointed Sue Georgious, the colleges’ former chair of governors as interim principal to lead the college during this time.
“Sue knows the college well and is deeply committed to it having previously been chair of the governing body and a governor since 2011. Steve Wood, previously vice chair, has been elected as the new chair.”