FIRST efforts by the Government to slash red tape have led to huge cuts in budgets, college employers have discovered.
Up to two-thirds of Standards Fund cash, which is targeted at schemes ranging from ethnic-minority recruitment to second-chance adult education initiatives, has not reached the colleges.
Principals have warned that with no flexibility in their core funding - which has remained static since before Labour came to power in 1997 - there will be redundancies and cuts in staff training.
Initial surveys of Learning and Skills Council allocations reveal cuts of up to pound;50,000 per college since control of the fund was delegated to the LSC.
Ministers promised to slash bureaucracy in response to the Association of CollegesFE Focus "Cut Red Tape" campaign. They simplified the pound;160 million Standards Fund - cutting the number of income streams from 17 to three and devolving control of cash.
Colleges were assured that they would get all the money, and extra cash would meet private training providers' needs. But the guarantees have failed, John Brennan, FE development director for the AOC, insists. "Local learning and skills councils have top-sliced the money they control and dictated the way it is spent. We do not know where the cash has gone, but it has not gone to colleges."
Sue Whitham, head of directorate for the Sixth Form Colleges Employers Forum, reports similar cuts. "Ministers say they have listened and simplified things but they have not. They just say they have put extra cash into colleges then pooh-pooh our complaints."
The LSC insists no such guarantees were given. A spokesperson said: "The Standards Fund is not guaranteed year-on-year funding. The fund is targeted where there is most need."
About pound;100m had been allocated and the rest would go on initiatives such as centres of vocational excellence, beacon colleges and area inspection action plans.
Both employer groups have warned that this is widening the funding gap still further with schools. Typically, while a North Yorkshire school had received a 19.5 per cent increase in its overall sixth-form budget, the neighbouring college saw its Standards Fund budget chopped by 60 per cent from pound;63,000 to pound;29,000.
Ms Whitham said: "The evidence confirms what we have said all along, that the money should be in the core funding."
Colleges in Lancashire this week called a meeting to express concerns. Reg Chapman, principal of Blackpool and the Fylde College, said: "Our local LSC has done the best to increase budgets but says it is not getting anything like the amount it expected."
Mr Brennan said the complaints were a repeat of the teachers' pay initiative problems. Despite Education Secretary Estelle Morris's assertion that there was 50 per cent more cash than last year, he said, "we have not been able to find more than a handful of winners".
College frustrations are reflected in an AOC survey of their views on the LSC. They criticise the "lack of transparency" and say the LSC has not been successful in reducing levels of bureaucracy.