Mrs Liddell acted following concern at frequent allegations of mismanagement and the recurring financial crises that have plagued colleges over the past six years. She was in particular seeking reassurances that the extra pound;214 million the Government is committing to the FE sector in Scotland over the next three years is in reliable hands.
The report by KPMG will be ready in February but the funding council will not reach any final decisions until its meeting in May because the consultants' recommendations first have to go through the hands of the council's management review steering group. The findings will then be reported to Henry McLeish, Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister.
John Sizer, the funding council's chief executive, said it was "taking early action to ensure that we can identify and disseminate best practice in Scotland's further education colleges. Our intention is that the review will have a positive and sustainable effect in ensuring highest quality management throughout the Scottish FE sector."
In earlier comments to the Parliament's audit committee in September, Professor Sizer sounded a tough warning to college boards that they must not act as cyphers for decisions by senior management. Boards are "the first line of public accountability", Professor Sizer commented, and must ensure colleges deliver value for money.
The council has kicked off its review by selecting 12 colleges out of 20 which had volunteered to demonstrate good management practice. They are Borders, Cardonald, Clydebank, Dundee, Telford in Edinburgh, Glasgow College of Building and Printing, Glenrothes, James Watt, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, North Glasgow and Thurso.
Ironically three colleges - Borders, Clydebank and Motherwell - have been in confrontation with the unions at various time over their approaches to industrial relations.
The council was careful not to select any colleges represented on the management review steering group whose membership the unions already believe is heavily stacked in favour of the status quo. It consists of two principals, Rae Angus of Aberdeen and Christina Potter of Elmwood, and two board chairmen, Bill Gold of West Lothian and Jim Skinner of Anniesland.
The group is chaired by David Batty, deputy managing director and commercial director with Babcock at Rosyth.
Mr Batty is a member of the board at Lauder College.