A special cabinet committee is being set up to consult all parts of society about effective ways to cut public spending.
The “Star Chamber”, named after a tribunal of privy councillors and judges that was a court of law in England until 1641, is the latest government strategy aimed at tackling the UK’s collective national debt.
Announcing the move earlier this week, George Osborne, the chancellor, said he wanted the “best people in their fields” to take part in a “wider public engagement exercise” over the summer.
“What we want to do is make sure that all political parties, that the brightest and best brains across Whitehall and the public sector, that voluntary groups, think tanks, trade unions that members of the public are all engaged in the debate and discussion about how collectively we deal with the problem – after all it is our collective national debt,” said Mr Osborne.
The Star Chamber will task colleges and independent training organisations to play their part in increasing public sector efficiency.
David Hughes, provider services director for the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), is seeking to engage experts in FE to play an active role in the government’s consultation.
Mr Hughes said: “The FE sector already delivers high quality learning and is great value for money but we are all being challenged to deliver efficiencies whilst maintaining frontline services; colleges and the wide variety of independent training organisations in the sector will not be exempt from that and should feel confident that they can face up to the challenge of delivering better for less.”
“The Skills Funding Agency wants to work with the sector and contribute to the ideas about how colleges and training organisations can and already are responding.”
Lynne Sedgmore, executive director of 157 Group, a partnership of 28 influential colleges, believes it is possible to find “significant savings” without damaging services to learners and employers.
“Our members’ experience of running large colleges – with a combined budget of £1.6 billion and 700,000 learners – means that we have acquired sophisticated business and educational skills in leadership and governance and have established ourselves as public and social entrepreneurs with significant skill in generating substantial efficiencies,” said Ms Sedgmore.
“With increased autonomy and the flexibility to be entrepreneurial, 157 Group member colleges could lead the way in demonstrating how significant economies of scale can be secured for local communities through managing shared services and through joint procurement of back-office services, bought-in supplies and practical facilities.
“Good leadership is crucial to ensuring better investment in teaching and learning. With the real freedoms the sector needs, 157 Group members would be keen to offer leadership by providing clear evidence of how and where member colleges have achieved greater value for money and driven up standards of provision faster than the rest of the FE sector and other public services.”
According to Ms Sedgmore, financial pressures are likely to mean colleges will find it difficult to survive without scale in the near-future. The 157 Group is calling for legislation and college governance changes to develop and implement more sophisticated merger, management buyout, collaboration and shared service models.
By reducing the number of colleges, it argues the sector can better manage risk. This would protect frontline teaching and training for learners, and harness the resources needed to drive economic recovery.
Ms Sedgmore adds: “157 Group members are also willing to offer the government proposals for carrying out critical functions such as self-regulation, accreditation, awarding body functions, peer review and quality improvement for the sector.”
Do you have any suggestions for the FE Star Chamber? Send them to the FE Community.