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Can we trust in the regions?

The first real action to transform the work of the Learning and Skills Council under the new leadership of Mark Haysom took shape this week with the appointment of 10 regional directors (two for London). They cover the same areas as the new regions of the Department for Education and Skills'

standards unit and the Regional Development Agencies.

One question is immediately apparent: why have three layers of officialdom to oversee post-16 non-higher education and training? All organisations, by their nature, develop vested interests. There lies one of the biggest causes of excess bureaucracy. And efforts to protect vested interests lead to obfuscation and the proliferation of jargon.

Mark Haysom pledged to take an axe to both and, through the use of "plain English", make the LSC "famous" for its style and passion - an honest, listening, action-orientated organisation.

He will not yet have worked out exactly how the regions will operate - that will take time given the autonomy of the 47 local LSC directors from which the regional bosses were drawn.

But he insisted, when he announced the plans in October, that far from creating bureaucracy, the LSC regions would simplify things. "I have 47 directors reporting directly to me and that's not smart," he said.

However, there is a deeper question to answer: how much does the Government trust its prime agency for FE to get on with the job?

Mark Haysom's band of regional directors (see p3) is a formidable, experienced and creditable line-up. Colleges and work-based trainers have been promised release from bureaucratic shackles.

The ministerial pledge to cut red tape was made 30 months ago, and the intentions for the sector have since been spelled-out repeatedly by the LSC's bureaucracy-busting taskforce and the report Trust in FE.

But the trust must start with the Government and among those heading the three layers of officialdom. The ground rules for all three have to be made clear before the new LSC regional system gets going. Otherwise, it cannot be long before another shake-up of quangos is demanded.

Given the very poor prospects for further education under the coming comprehensive spending review, ministers must also demonstrate the cash is not being wasted on duplicated effort.

Principals and training directors are becoming ever more confused over the bigger picture. Looking at the relationships between the various government agencies, there is already a sense of wider rationalisation pending.

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