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MPs condemn ‘catastrophic mismanagement’ of FE college funding programme

Ministers on the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee investigating the college building crisis last week found that "warning signs were missed and even worse, ignored".

Earlier this year, it emerged that the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) did not have the funds to carry out the college development plans it had feverishly encouraged. Out of the 144 colleges that had together invested millions of pounds in preparing projects for LSC approval, only 13 will get the go-ahead this year.

Committee chairman Phil Willis said: "It really beggars belief that such an excellent programme which had showed real success in transforming the further education experience for students was mismanaged into virtual extinction.

"Warning signs were missed and even worse, ignored. LSC didn’t notice as the total value of the projects it was considering began to overshoot the budget and a review which could have prompted action was shunted around committees and policy groups."

Dr Mary Bousted, Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) general secretary, said: "Further education, its staff and students, are suffering because of the total fiasco over the capital building programme. This was a text-book example of how not to run a funding programme. Both the Learning and Skills Council and the Government have to take the blame for this and learn from their mistakes.

"The Committee’s report supports our view that the structures set up to deliver post 16 education are ill thought through and too complex. Contrary to what was proposed in the 2005 Foster Review the Government has been treating FE colleges like any other commercial, market driven business. They are being used as ‘skills warehouses’ to educate those over 16."

The Government says lessons are being learned, and LSC chief executive Geoff Russell, who replaced Mark Haysom when he quit over early reports of mismanagement, is confident that the quango can adapt its work practices.

Mr Russell said: "I am confident that we have understood the lessons from the past and have adapted our working practices to the current funding environment.

"We are working together with the sector to explore alternative financing options to support more college projects to be built.

"The LSC has undertaken a review of the costs incurred by colleges to identify solvency issues as well as to assess the appropriateness of those expenditures. Of course, to the extent that privately funded projects can proceed, this issue can be largely mitigated."



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