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College building disaster should have been avoided, says Foster investigation

The college building crisis, which saw 144 projects put on hold last year because of a chronic gap in funding, was the result of “inadequate management, information and monitoring”, according to an inquiry.

The Foster Report into Capital Funding for Colleges, headed by Sir Andrew Foster, said alarm bells should have been ringing as early as February 2008 as it criticised the Government for not noticing the flaws in the scheme.

Chris Banks, Learning and Skills Council (LSC) chair, said: “I am very grateful to Sir Andrew for the thorough and professional way in which he approached the task and accept his recommendations for the way forward.

“There have been major issues with the management of the college capital programme, in particular the forecasting and management of demand for funding (i.e. the expanding pipeline of projects waiting for final approval). The LSC’s approach to managing the capital programme was designed for a situation where funding for capital projects was in balance with demand from the sector. Continuing to use that approach as demand started to outstrip available funds, led to the difficulties we have today.

“The LSC accepts the criticisms that have been directed at it.

“I am taking immediate action to strengthen the governance of the capital programme and other key elements of the LSC’s work. I have commissioned a review of our governance arrangements and this will be presented to National Council on 22 April.”

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), which recently warned the crisis could cost more than £170m, called for a quick resolution from the Government.

Mr Doel said: “This report reveals mismanagement on an astonishing scale. The fact that so many Colleges were encouraged to increase the size of their building programmes is particularly galling.

“Colleges that have had to invest heavily in preparing for these projects should be indemnified against any losses. We also need a quick, clear and fair resolution.

“This building programme remains an ideal candidate for further investment: it will provide a significant stimulus to the economy, construction companies across the country are ready to start work and completed College projects have a proven track record of finishing on time and on budget.

“These new buildings will benefit students, staff, businesses and the wider communities that Colleges serve so well.”

Geoff Russell, who replaced Mark Haysom as chief executive of the LSC after he stepped down over allegations of mismanagement, responded: “The LSC will now implement each of Sir Andrew’s recommendations as quickly as possible and I am writing to all College Principals today to give them more information on next steps.

“Working with the Association of Colleges, we have already begun to consult the FE sector on developing the new needs based criteria which will be necessary to prioritise demand. I am appointing an external team of property specialists to assist in ensuring that the information held by the LSC is accurate and comprehensive and a sound basis for taking future decisions. As the new criteria are developed, we will consult widely with representative college groups, Regional Development Agencies and local authorities.”

Mr Russell added: “I am determined that we will quickly continue the capital programme to ensure it delivers outstanding learning facilities for further education students.”

Pictured: Sir Andrew Foster

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