NWRC faces challenge to rebuild trust following critical report: Stephen Farry

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NORTH West Regional College faces a “challenging task” to rebuild trust between management, staff and unions, according to the Further Education Minister, Dr Stephen Farry.

He made his comments as the Department for Employment and Learning today published the report of the review of industrial relations in North West Regional College (NWRC).

The 84 page document included reports of allegations that staff are working within a “culture of fear” and suggested it could take up to five years for relations between staff and management to heal.

The review was commissioned by the Minister at the request of the NWRC Governing Body which had identified concerns in relation to industrial relations problems in the college.

The review has been independently and externally conducted by Equality and Human Resources Consultant, Harry McConnell. The Department accepts its overall conclusions and recommendations and has referred the report to the college’s Governing Body which has responsibility for the implementation of its recommendations.

The Minister said: “The report clearly identifies that the NWRC needs to rebuild trust between staff, management and the unions. This will be a challenging task which will require all sides to commit to a process of change. Management and unions at the college will have to work together to create this change.

“The Governing Body will wish to consider the report’s findings in detail. However, its recommendations support initiatives already underway in NWRC to bring about a more collaborative working environment. In particular, implementation of the college’s improvement plan provides an opportunity to re-build trust between college management, staff and unions.”

“I will monitor the situation closely and my Department will continue to offer whatever assistance it can to the NWRC Governing Body to address these issues. This process will be difficult but the Governing Body has assured me that it is committed to addressing these issues and it has my full support in this regard. It is critical that everyone focuses their efforts on ensuring that NWRC delivers on its primary goal of up-skilling the local population and contributing to the economic development of the North West region.”

The chair of the Governing body at the NWRC, Bertie Faulkner said: “In April 2012 the Governing Body requested the Minister for the Department of Employment and Learning to commission an independent review of industrial relations at North West Regional College, so that we could find out more about the nature and extent of the industrial relations issues that our own investigations had identified.

“We accept the core tenet of the report - that industrial relations in the College are unacceptable and have been so for some considerable time.

“We have concerns in relation to the perceived culture within the organisation as represented in the report, in particular the perceived levels of trust, respect and fear within the College and the nature of the relationship between the College and the University and College Union (UCU).

“We recognise the need to rebuild respect and trust between staff, management and the Governing Body and it is especially important that the UCU, at both regional and branch level, commit fully to succeeding in this task.

“We accept the recommendations of the report, which are aligned with the College Improvement Programme initiated just before Christmas 2012. This programme will be implemented by a Project Team which has been assembled from all levels of management and staff within the college. It will be chaired by a member of the Governing Body.

“The College Improvement Programme will look at three main areas: The leadership and management culture throughout the organisation; Our performance against key indicators; and the way in which we communicate, internally and externally.

“We will ensure that the College Improvement Programme addresses the recommendations from the McConnell report.

“We wish to take this opportunity to recognise the good work that management and staff continue to do in these difficult circumstances, work that is evidenced by improvements in key performance indicators and in the recent Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) Report, which found “overall the quality of the provision for learning is very good, it is very good in further education and is good in work-based learning”; “the quality of pastoral care for learners is a strong feature of the college”.

“We have already begun to tackle the issues highlighted in this report and we will not stop until these issues have been addressed.”