A former minister has called on public funding watchdogs to
investigate the Further Education Funding Council, amid concerns that it has been too slow to act
on failing colleges, writes Phil Baty.
Frank Field, Labour MP for Birkenhead and former social security minister for the current government, has written to Sir John Bourne, comptroller and auditor general at the National Audit Office, calling for an inquiry.
He wants the NAO to investigate in particular the "role of the FEFC in allowing Wirral Metropolitan College to accumulate Pounds 12 million of debt". Lecturers' union Natfhe has criticised the FEFC for sanctioning some of the disastrous management decisions through its Northwest regional committee.
"Frank Field is demanding that the inquiry looks closely at what advice was given by the FEFC to the college when problems started to occur," said his spokesman.
This week a spokesman for the FEFC defended its action over Wirral. "In January 1999, the council made a decision to ask the secretary of state to remove the then board of governors of the college from office and appoint a new board.
"It took this decision on the basis that the affairs of the college had been and were being mismanaged. Despite being given extensive support and advice, the then college board was unable to satisfy the council that it could redeem the inadequacies of its financial control and planning, student number data and quality standards."
Ministers plan to increase the FEFC's powers of intervention.