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On the audit trail

John Parnham is amazed FE colleges are not required to appoint a qualified accountant who reports directly to the principal. "How else is the principal going to get the right information?" he asks.

Governors can also become very nervy where money is concerned, says the principal of Isle of Wight College. "I'm surprised that governing bodies don't go down that route for their own protection," he adds.

When Mr Parnham took over last October, the Isle of Wight was recovering from a damning FEFC inspection report in which its financial management was condemned as weak. Inspectors who visited the college in February 1999 criticised it for nothaving any qualified accountants at a senior level within its finance department.

During August, while the college was being run by an acting principal, Jo Whiting was appointed director of finance and management services. She is now a member of a five-strong college executive that includes the principal, a vice-principal and two directors.

Ms Whiting, a chartered accountant who previsouly worked worked for Coopers and Lybrand, found thechallenge of moving into a troubled FE college an interesting one. FEFC funding methodology, along with the unique experience of working withacademics, were areas notcovered in her training.

"The finances had beenmanaged. The most significant problem was a lack of audit trail," she explains. "Everything had been kept in the head rather than put down on paper. We have now proper procedures to make sure everything isrecorded."

The problems at the Isle of Wight stemmed fromoverclaiming FEFC units and its involvement in unsuccessful European Social Fund activities. "It was an administrative nightmare," says Mr Parnham. "We have a range of issues to address in relation to the college's financial health."

While he believes the FEFC is less concerned about the college's position than before, staff will not know how far it is down the road to recovery until a reinspection this month.

Before last August, Isle of Wight employed staff with financial titles but who were not qualified accountants. "People who are unqualified do not have a title to lose," adds Mr Parnham.

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