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Capital projects stuck in pipeline

The Scottish Further Education Funding Council is promising to speed up the time it takes to approve capital spending plans.

As the Scottish Executive's spending review allocated more money than ever before to plough into college estates, Roger McClure, the funding council's chief executive, admitted last week that it had much to learn - but so had colleges.

"We have to raise our game to eliminate as much delay as possible," Mr McClure told the council's annual open meeting in Dundee last week. "This applies to the colleges in making sure they provide all the information that is asked of them, as well as to ourselves in attempting to speed things up. But we are relatively new at this and we have a lot to learn."

Esther Roberton, who chairs the council, said that, while one or two isolated projects had come to the council for approval in the past, it was now having to grapple with more complex ventures.

Both were responding to criticisms from Graham Keith, chairman of the board at Clydebank College, who questioned the quality of the scrutiny of the college's capital plans, and the time it was taking. These are officially in the pipeline awaiting a council decision.

"What I want to know is what do we have to do to get out of the pipeline," Mr Keith said.

Both sides have to learn lessons, the council believes, and David Wann, its deputy chief executive, revealed that some of the extra money made available in the Executive's spending review would be used to help colleges improve the quality of their business case.

The funding council faces critical decisions in allocating the Executive's additional cash for capital investment in FE. This year's total of pound;38 million will be boosted by pound;28 million in 2005-06 and by a further Pounds 50 million in each of the following two years.

Mr McClure told The TES Scotland that, while these figures are generous, the condition of many college properties is such that they will need all these resources over the next few years.

So far the council has approved 12 capital projects worth pound;250 million at Telford, Fife, Reid Kerr, Glenrothes, Cardonald, South Lanarkshire, Cumbernauld, Motherwell, John Wheatley, North Glasgow, Stevenson and Oatridge colleges. The council's grant towards these projects is pound;125 million.

In the pipeline are decisions for Clydebank, Anniesland and Langside colleges, where investment plans total pound;80-pound;90 million.

The major decisions have to be made in Glasgow where the five city centre colleges have been bogged down in protracted discussions, attempting to resolve tensions between individual aspirations and the needs of the colleges as a whole.

In his address to the meeting, Mr McClure made it clear that decent surroundings were integral to quality FE. "If students, and just as importantly businesses, see buildings that look rubbish, they will assume that what happens inside them is also rubbish," he said.

"I hope we have moved on from the time when it was thought that public buildings in this country should be as shabby as possible because otherwise people would think too much money had been lavished on them."

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