MPs point to franchise lessons

August 14, 1998

LESSONS from an investigation into alleged misuse of public funds at Halton College, Widnes, must be "promulgated throughout the sector", the influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee has said, writes Phil Baty.

Halton College principal Martin Jenkins and his vice-principal, John Dolphin, are under suspension as the Further Education Funding Council investigates the alleged misuse of millions of pounds of public funds.

The FEFC has indicated that preliminary inquiries by accountants Robson Rhodes have given rise to "concerns". A comprehensive investigation is expected to be complete within the next two weeks, an FEFC spokesman said. But the FEFC would not confirm that the report would be published, despite the PAC demand.

Allegations against college managers include exaggerated and incorrect funding claims for courses and the purchase of tens of thousands of pounds of information technology equipment without competitive tendering. A private company set up by the college is also understood to be under investigation. The FEFC has already said that "no evidence was found to support the allegations linking particular governors to the procurement of computers or to the college's use of hotels".

The PAC, in its report, The Management of Growth in the English Further Education Sector, concentrated on the alleged mismanagement of the college's franchised and outreach course provision. It said it was concerned that franchised provision "gives serious risk as regards regularity and financial control".

"Our concerns about the financial control of franchised and out-reach programmes were brought into focus by the situation that developed at Halton College," said the report. "We will wish to be fully informed about the outcome of the funding council's investigations into the funding claims of that college as they relate to franchised programmes; and we will wish to be assured that the lessons from this case have been promulgated throughout the sector."

An FEFC spokesman said: "It is still early days. If there are lessons to be learned, we will look at ways of sharing them with the sector."

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