Colleges give a frosty welcome to intervention by funding council

MINISTERS may be able to send hit squads into colleges to sort out serious difficulties under plans to strengthen the powers of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council. But they will not be met with a welcome.

Iain Gray, Lifelong Learning Minister, this week launched a two-month consultation on governance and accountability, nine years after colleges became autonomous bodies free of local authority control. The trigger is the mismanagement debacle at Moray College in Elgin, which spawned two major reports by the Auditor-General and MSPs.

The Scottish Parliament's audit committee singled out the lack of direct intervention powers when things are going wrong in a college. That is now addressed by the plan to hand the funding council powers to appoint up to two members to any board or send two observers to meetings.

`In both cases, the council's ability to monitor the board and its decision-making processes would be "significantly improved", the review states.

But Tom Kelly, chief officer with the Association of Scottish Colleges, rejects intervention. "There's the clang of the stable door after the horse has bolted. The problems at Moray are nearly five years old and its problems were of judgment and performance not of structure."

Most boards then would have avoided such difficulties and more so now, Mr Kelly argues. "If you are going to ask boards of management to take responsibility, you leave their hand on the tiller and hold them accountable. You cannot have two hands on the tiller," he said.

Mr Kelly welcomed the review of appointments procedures for boards and the type of skills members bring to their voluntary role. He insists boards of management are "highly competent at most things they do and handle a difficult job well".

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