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Clerks to keep an eye on the cash

COLLEGE clerks should act as watchdogs to avoid any repeat of the financial calamities to have hit parts of the further education sector in recent years, the Government has said.

"We don't want any more cases like Halton or Bilston," FE minister Baroness Blackstone told the inaugural conference for college clerks in London last week.

Speaking after the Further Education Funding Council had launched its blueprint for good college governance, the minister warned the sector to be "beyond reproach" and urged clerks to make sure nobody could criticise the way colleges are run.

Halton incorrectly claimed pound;6.4 million from the FEFC after governors failed to spot financial irregularities and Bilston, now part of Wolverhampton College, ran up debts of several million pounds.

"The governance and management of some colleges have simply not measured up in the recent past. We want FE to be held up internationally and not brought down by the behaviour of the few," said Baroness Blackstone. "Excellence always begins in the boardroom and you have the ability to make a huge difference."

A governor-training campaign, based on materials produced by a Further Education Development Agency-led consortium,begins next month.

The training pack includes modules on financial management, personnel and human resources. One module covers college audit committees and their role in investigating fraud and financial irregularities.

Colleges will each receive about pound;2,000 towards the cost of new governor-training and institutions which have received grade one for governance in inspections will be invited to help train them.

The FEFC also plans to introduce training specifically for college clerks.

It has said it will not be too time-consuming or prescriptive, bearing in mind that many clerks are also senior managers.

Later this year, the Further Education National Training Organisation (FENTO) is due to publish standards for governors to complement the FEFC training.

FENTO chief executive Geoff Terry said he recognised that the standards must not place too great a burden on "unpaid volunteers" but said governing bodies must be clear about what is expected of them.

He said: "If FE is to remain at the forefront of lifelong learning under the Learning and Skills Council, colleges will require sound governance by competent governors with easy access to training and development."

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