The Scottish Parliament's powerful audit committee has taken the surprise step of naming the 13 further education colleges said to account for almost 70 per cent of the sector's deficit.
John Sizer, chief executive of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, told the committee last September that 13 colleges had serious financial problems, but refused to name them. But the audit committee's report on Scottish further education colleges reveals that they are Aberdeen, Bell, Clackmannan, Inverness, James Watt, Langside, Lews Castle, Moray, Clydebank, North Glasgow, Perth, Reid Kerr and South Lanarkshire colleges.
Professor Sizer said they accounted for about 69 per cent of the sector's operating deficit, which has leapt from Pounds 2.9 million in 1993-94 to a forecast Pounds 22.6 million for 1998-99.
The audit committee says Reid Kerr predicts clearing its accumulated deficit by 2002-03. Bell's target is the following year, Clydebank's the year after, and North Glasgow's 2006-07. But Aberdeen, James Watt, Lews Castle and Moray colleges are listed as having no recovery plan in place.
The report says there is no reason why the colleges have incurred such large deficits. But ten have above-average staff costs and most are highly dependent on their grant from the Scottish Executive.
Andrew Welsh, the audit committee's convener, said the forecast deficit could be partly attributed to the twin pressures of increasing student numbers and a squeeze on funding. The committee wants the SFEFC to complete a "root and branch" review of the sector and action planned to tackle deficits by the end of the year.