Colleges chief quizzed by MPs over release of mailing list to private firms

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The Independent Online
The colleges chief accused of supplying a private pensions and insurance company with his organisation's mailing list was yesterday grilled by MPs. Our Education Correspondent, Lucy Ward, heard him protest his innocence.

Roger Ward, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AOC), denied before a Commons committee that he or any member of his publicly funded organisation had given names and addresses of principals, clerks and chairs of governors to a commercial company.

MPs questioned Mr Ward following claims that while chief executive of the Colleges' Employer's Forum - AOC's parent organisation - he passed the organisation's database to the healthcare insurance company Burke Ford Reed in 1995.

He is also said to have received payments of pounds 650 a month from Burke Ford Reed. Mr Ward has denied the cash was in return for consultancy work, saying it was a rebate paid to him by the company after it took over a firm of financial advisers which owed him money.

That allegation, and a further claim that he had used his position to promote a college lecturing agency, Education Lecturing Services (ELS), are being investigated by an independent firm of Newcastle-based solicitors on the instructions of the AOC board.

However, while denying the main allegations, Mr Ward acknowledged under questioning from Don Foster, Liberal Democrat education spokesman, that databases had been released outside his organisation.

The database was shared with "a number of people who share the interests of the further education sector", though not with ELS, he told the education sub-committee, which is examining the governance and funding of further education. "When we have been approached by reputable companies who have a product or service we think would improve the efficiency of colleges... we try to make this available to all colleges."

The AOC, whose pounds 2m annual income comes almost entirely from college subscrip- tions, had now written to its members asking whether they were content for the arrangement to continue, he added.

Mr Ward last week said he welcomed the inquiry and offered his "fullest co-operation".

His support for the use of agency staff by colleges in place of part- time employees has made him many enemies among lecturers, who claim the change will lead to increasing casualisation and poorer terms and conditions. Mr Ward's flamboyant, champagne-drinking image is also widely resented at the grassroots.

Neither ELS nor Burke Ford Reed were available for comment yesterday.

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