Red tape is an easy target, especially where funding councils are concerned. No system of allocating money has yet been devised that could not be simplified, and there are often good reasons for apparently unnecessary bureaucracy. But when the critic chairs a deregulation task force and has just joined the funding council in question, her comments have to be taken seriously. Some questioned whether Dame Patricia Hodgson should be both poacher and gamekeeper when she added membership of the Higher Education Funding Council for England to the chair of her review group, but this week's speech to the Association of University Administrators suggests the dual role might prove advantageous.
Dame Patricia is right that the temptation to micromanage is the greatest danger facing Hefce and its counterparts in Scotland and Wales. Even apparent decentralisation can mask more bureaucracy, as in the example she gave of 90 questions on the monitoring of personnel policies. The funding councils have been responding to demands to cut red tape, but more pressure from the inside will do no harm.