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Bill to give power back to colleges

College managers and staff will have greater control over the way they run their operations following reforms to be included in the coming further education Bill.

The Learning and Skills Council has responded to criticisms of "too much red tape" by promising to strip the 47 local branches of their powers.

Decision-making will be devolved to 148 local partnerships, run largely by the colleges and other providers involved.

Bigger policy and governance issues will be handled by nine regional councils. This will leave much-reduced local branches giving market advice and guidance to the partnerships.

The changes are likely to be underpinned by the Bill which will propose measures to cut bureaucracy, strengthen college governing bodies along the lines of university boards, open the market further to private competition and give the LSCcontrol of college mergers and closures.

A government source suggested that the local councils may be abolished.

Legislation would be needed, because they were created under the 2000 Learning and Skills Act as autonomous bodies. An FEBill announcement is due next month in the Queen's Speech.

Other reforms are expected to include a greater separation of 14-19 and adult learning, to make the latter more responsive to individual and employer demands. Ministers want swift legislation to bring reforms into effect next September.

Rob Wye, director of strategy at the LSC, said that, while he could not comment on the Queen's Speech or pending legislation, the council was pushing ahead with changes. He said: "This is about getting the right activity in the right place and getting the right people to do it. We are reinventing the organisation to be fit for purpose and strengthening relationshsips with the stakeholders.

"The 47 local councils are now a halfway house and there is a lot more activity regionally. We are no longer the sole players but we are important players. It is no good us staying the same."

The LSC's annual statement of priorities reflected the need to give more support where it mattered, he said. "Money for young people and for adults is going up 7 per cent and capital investment is increasing 20 per cent."

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