Government monitoring Hull College Group investigation

People protesting in front of Hull College
Image caption The investigation comes after staff went on strike last year over proposed job cuts

An independent investigation into the management of a college group is being "carefully monitored" by the government, a minister has said.

A union said there were "very serious" allegations regarding recruitment practices and the remuneration packages at Hull College Group.

Education minister Lord Agnew said "any financial wrongdoing" would be treated "extremely seriously".

Hull College Group strongly denies the allegations.

The government's Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) is "carefully monitoring events".

Lord Agnew said: "The ESFA have been made aware of allegations regarding the management of Hull College Group.

"The college has launched an independent investigation into these issues. The ESFA has contacted the college to seek assurances that the investigation is independent and is monitoring the situation."

Industry magazine FE Week reported that the investigation was being carried out by a law firm after allegations were made by a whistleblower.

Image copyright Hull College Group
Image caption Chief executive Michelle Swithenbank faced a vote of no confidence from UCU staff

The University and College Union (UCU), which has previously called for chief executive Michelle Swithenbank to resign, said it had not been approached for input into the investigation.

Regional officer Julie Kelly said: "There were various appointments made that we did not think had followed a due process.

"There were instances where relatives and friends of the CEO were being recruited and brought in to do work and we just didn't think that was an appropriate thing to do."

The college told FE Week that "full disclosure of a family connection was made to the board" regarding a fixed term marketing role held by Ms Swithenbank's partner, later husband, concluding in August 2018.

The current investigation reportedly relates to use of college funds and appointments in recent months.

In 2017, Hull College Group was criticised over its financial management after racking up a £10m budget deficit.

The following year, staff voted for strike action over the plans to cut 231 posts as part of the college group's restructuring plan.

Hull College Group runs sites in Hull and Goole. Its site in Harrogate was taken over by a different education provider earlier this year.

In a statement, the group said it had "always been open about what they have faced" and that it was "an organisation on a difficult but positive journey".

A spokeswoman said: "With regards the ongoing independent investigation, it would be inappropriate for this to be discussed publicly until it has been allowed to conclude without risk of interference or prejudice."

Image copyright Geograph / Ian S
Image caption Hull College Group has launched an independent investigation

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