A superquango rises from ashes

November 5, 1999

College leaders are delighted that ministers have decided to build the Pounds 5 billion training and skills funding quango on the foundations of the Further Education Funding Council in Coventry, writes Phil Baty.

The superquango, the Learning and Skills Council, will replace the FEFC and the training and enterprise councils in April 2001, bringing together funding for further education, work-based training and adult and community education. It will be based at the FEFC's headquarters.

Ministers' decision not to locate the LSC in Sheffield, home of the civil servants in charge of Tecs, is seen as a victory for college "culture" at the expense of the business-led Tecs. A new adult education inspectorate will be based in Coventry, rather than in Oxford, where the Training Standards Council is based.

In a move to appease business leaders and to play down the college victory, ministers revealed the plans last week with a strongly worded reiteration that business leaders will represent 40 per cent of LSC membership.

But the decision will clearly mean that the LSC is dominated by existing FEFC staff and cultures. A report on the decision, by consultants Capita, says that "most FEFC staff will apply for posts in the new organisation if it is located at Coventry, while it appears that only a small number of staff based in Sheffield would wish to transfer".

The report also noted that the FEFC had working practices that are "closer to those of the new LSC, particularly in terms of funding systems".

It recognises that rejecting plans for a new location may not lead to the "new start" that ministers wanted, but Capita's report said that "leadership and management approaches" would be more important than location.

David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, said this week: "I'm delighted with the decision. The announcement provides the ideal foundation on which to build

a brand new organisation. We are obviously very pleased that Coventry has been chosen ... its high-quality workforce has helped

the FEFC work effectively to date."

The Association of Colleges also welcomed the decision.

Education secretary David Blunkett said that the new structure will "cut through the duplication, confusion and bureaucracy" and make savings of Pounds 50 million a year. However, the Capita report warned that the transition "may introduce the risk of reduced levels of control and accountability" while audit systems are developed.

Business leaders were bullish about their role. Adair Turner, outgoing director general of the Confederation of British Industry, said: "The CBI has made it clear to government that business needs a leading role in the new national and local LSCs."

He said that he was "very encouraged that they have taken our message on board" in announcing that employers will make up the largest minority of LSC members.

A chief executive and a chair of the LSC, and local LSCs' chairs and executive directors, will be appointed next summer. Staff recruitment will begin at the end of 2000.

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