Weak local management in the 47 learning and skills councils poses a threat to the government's plans to reform the post-16 sector, according to a survey of college heads published this week.
A discussion paper launched by education secretary Estelle Morris on June 19 called on the LSCs to lead strategic reviews of further education and sixth-form provision in their areas. But a survey of members of the Association of Colleges has raised doubts about the implementation of Ms Morris's plans.
The strategic reviews could potentially lead to a reshuffle of post-16 provision between schools, colleges and private providers in an effort to better meet the needs of students and employers.
The discussion paper also calls on the national Learning and Skills Council and the Higher Education Funding Council for England to consider how they might remove barriers to progression between further and higher education.
But college heads, who met last week for the AoC's annual summer conference in Cambridge, are worried that any reorganisation will be badly managed by the LSCs, whose experience of further education is "limited and patchy".
The AoC survey reveals widespread concern over the effectiveness of local LSCs. Less than 5 per cent of the 281 further education managers and governors who responded to the survey felt that the structure of a national LSC with 47 local arms was working effectively. About two-thirds of respondents saw "clear tensions" between the national and local bodies.
College leaders expressed concerns that local-initiative funds were often not being used effectively and that not enough was being done to disseminate good practice from the initiatives funded.
The national LSC was also criticised for failing to reduce bureaucracy, with less than 3 per cent of respondents believing the LSC offered good value for money.
David Gibson, chief executive of the AoC, said: "This first-year review shows that the national LSC and many local LSCs have some way to go to demonstrate the value that they add to services to learners."
Sue Whitham, who heads the secretariat of the Sixth Form Colleges'
Employers' Forum, said LSCs were on a steep learning curve because they were largely staffed by former Training and Enterprise Council employees.
She said: "We are concerned that if you have people who do not know about colleges, they cannot understand what the situation is and decide what the solutions should be."
John Harwood, chief executive of the LSC, welcomed the AoC's findings as providing a "useful insight" into further education heads' views and a good starting point for the LSC's own annual performance survey.