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Union condemns ‘uncaring’ handling of Perth College UHI job cut announcement

The University of Highlands and Islands confirmed on Friday it is to cut up to 50 jobs at its Perth campus.

Perth UHI
Perth college. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Union representatives have slammed the handling of an announcement The University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) is to cut 50 jobs in Perth.

The announcement was made on Friday, with UHI blaming the cost-of-living crisis and removal of Scottish Government funding for the cuts at Perth College.

A number of courses will also be axed as the institution faces a £3 million funding black hole.

Unison Further Education union has described it as a “crushing blow” to both the local economy and people.

According to the union, staff were advised in an email on Friday afternoon when management were still in a meeting.

Unison has also alleged representatives were told to keep it a secret, and were expected to handle the “fallout” and speak to impacted staff.

Phase one of the consultation process has started, with the university offering voluntary redundancy to staff.

Job cuts ‘crushing blow’ to local economy

Unison is now calling on the leadership at Perth UHI to engage in “meaningful consultation” and look at how roles can be saved.

They are also calling on the Scottish Government to intervene as the plan is “hugely detrimental to the local economy, local community, leading to an overall loss of invaluable services”.

A staff walkout took place on Monday in protest of the cuts.

Staff walkout at Perth UHI over job cuts.
Staff staged a walkout at Perth UHI on Monday. Image: Supplied

A staff member employed by UHI, who asked not to be named, said: “Nobody was made aware of the redundancies until Friday.

“There were many tears and foul language over the disgusting and undignified way people have been treated.

“I am utterly disappointed in the unprofessionalism.”

Local Unison representatives said in a statement: “This is a crushing blow to the local economy and to the life chances of local people.

“It is devastating for our loyal and diligent members who face loss of livelihood during the on-going cost of living crisis.

“Unison wholeheartedly condemns the announcement and is appalled at the cynical, uncaring and unprofessional way it was handled.

“Senior leaders declined to face staff, instead expecting junior managers and trade union representatives to handle the inevitable and considerable fallout and deal with traumatised staff.

“Our members have yet again been treated with contempt, and indifference to the impact this announcement would have on them.”

‘Counting chickens before eggs are laid’

The union also hit out at claims the Scottish Government is at fault for cutting funding.

The statement added: “Senior leaders of FE colleges are indulging in spreading this mantra across further education in Scotland, despite it being fake news.

“It is the equivalent of counting their chickens before the eggs are even laid, let alone hatched.

“The real reason behind these cuts is years of fiscal ineptitude on the part of those holding the purse strings – fewer than 100 individuals who earn around £10m a year between them.”

Perth UHI
Unison has condemned the handling of the announcement at Perth UHI. Image: Steve MacDougall/DC Thomson

Perth UHI blamed job cuts on a number of circumstances including:

  • Reduction in higher education recruitment over a period of time
  • Flat cash for further education with a 10% reduction in credit numbers available
  • The removal of the £46 million for transformation within the college and university sectors
  • The projected cost of living increases for utilities and pay awards (which will not be funded by the Scottish Government).

Dr Margaret Cook, Perth UHI principal and chief executive, said: “I want to take this opportunity to clarify the position that we at UHI Perth find ourselves.

“In common with the college sector as a whole, we have seen real terms cut in the government funding we receive, we will not receive any inflationary increases to our core funding.

“Therefore, given the cost-of-living crisis this effectively means that we will have to absorb all of the additional costs for factors such as utilities and staff pay rises, leaving us with a budget deficit of £3m for the coming year.

“We have also had a reduction in our teaching delivery for further education of 10%.

“With all of these factors combined, we have no option but to make the level of changes we are proposing.

“We will work closely with our Trade Unions through the consultation period and welcome input from staff across the college.

“We are currently looking at our commercial activities including the nursery and are conscious of the impact that having to close/make significant changes will have across our college and the wider community – but the senior team and I will do everything we can to minimise the impact of these proposed changes on our students, they and our staff are our priority in this difficult time.

“After the challenges, pressures, sacrifices and response from our staff over the last few years, this is not what the Board of Management or the senior team want to do but we are forced to propose difficult measures to ensure the long-term sustainability of UHI Perth.”

Perthshire MSP ‘very concerned’ about UHI job cuts

Speaking after the announcement on Friday, former deputy First Minister and MSP for Perthshire North John Swinney said: “I am very concerned by this news, and the impact it will have both on the affected workforce and potential students.”

John Swinney
John Swinney. Image: Jane Barlow/PA Wire