Labour sparks FE row

November 3, 1995

A Labour Government would devolve further education funding and policy decisions to new regional councils, it emerged this week.

Much of the power currently vested in the Further Education Funding Councils would be handed to the regional bodies, which would be made up of representatives from local authorities, colleges, employers and other training providers.

Bryan Davies, Labour's further and higher education spokesman, said the move would help tackle the severe financial difficulties facing dozens of colleges in the sector struggling to meet ambitious national targets which fail to recognise local circumstances.

And it would help colleges respond more efficiently to regional education and training needs which are often neglected under the present regime, he added.

Many FE heads have been calling for more recognition of local social and labour market conditions and of historical funding as they endeavour to adjust their budgets according to the Further Education Funding Council for England's "convergence" exercise. This aims to bring all college spending within 10 per cent of the national average by the end of next year.

But this week some college principals joined funding council chiefs in criticising Labour's proposals.

David Brown, principal of Dunstable College, said there was already a reasonable balance between central and regional control. Local authority involvement could mean "sectional interests and lobbying" and would overshadow the work of the colleges.

Reg Chapman, principal of Blackpool and The Fylde College, said institutions would be concerned if the new regional bodies had a strong planning role.

"At the moment the funding council gives us a fair amount of freedom and I would be concerned if any new body tried to steer us in any one direction," he said.

Roger McClure, the FEFCE's head of finance, said the council was anxious to avoid the introduction of regional tiers, because these would lead to inflexibility and inefficiency in funding.

Currently no regional factors are taken into account in colleges' funding allocations.

Funding council regional committees meet three times a year, but they have no executive powers and their remit is to provide advice only.

Mr Davies said FE colleges had a key role to play in Labour's plans for a sharper focus on the development of regional economies.

"I think there is a growing realisation that the current national template is producing an unsatisfactory outcome," he said.

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