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Audit chief to battle against red tape

SIR Andrew Foster will take a key role in cutting red tape in further education when he steps down as controller of the Audit Commission.

The commission ensures value-for-money in public services. Sir Andrew's experience will be vital in ensuring that, as red tape is cut , colleges continue to account for the cash they spend.

He will chair a "gatekeeper" group set up by the Learning and Skills Council and the Department for Education and Skills to scrutinise new policies and procedure for unnecessary paperwork. The group will also look at existing procedures.

Sir George Sweeney, who heads the LSC's bureaucracy-busting task force, said: "Sir Andrew's experience will be immensely beneficial to driving forward our shared desire to eliminate unnecessary red tape without compromising proper public accountability.

"The very existence of the group will ensure that the bureaucratic implications of policy and legislation will be at the forefront of our minds."

Sir Andrew is known to be critical of ministers who attempt to interfere with the commission's work and it is hoped that he will be equally protective of colleges. Sir Andrew said: "When I come into a new area it is my personal style to watch, look, learn and listen and have a very open and welcoming approach to people and to encourage people to email me and write to me. FE is vital to the skills we need and I am aware of the very important role these institutions play."

Red tape in FE is often blamed on a complex funding system inherited from the Further Education Funding Council. But problems are also caused by DfES initiatives.

John Harwood, chief executive of the LSC, said progress is being made on simplifying funding but Sir Andrew would help to move things further forward.

He said: "We welcome Sir Andrew's appointment. We are already tackling data collection, audit and funding issues and are focusing our effort on improving significantly our methods of communication with providers. By early next year, we will have overhauled the production of guidance and circulars to the post-16 sector."

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