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Council sniff out watchdog leak

THE Further Education Funding Council instituted a leak inquiry after The TES revealed it had been accused of a breach of natural justice by its own ombudsman.

As The TES went to press the FEFC met to discuss the leaking of the confidential document, and what action it would take on the ombudsman's report. A spokesman for the council said: "We will make the report publicly available in full once the ombudsman and the former board have had an opportunity to consider it."

As The TES reported last week, the ombudsman, John Bevan, accused the council of a breach of natural justice when it inspected the Wirral Metropolitan College, in Merseyside. Mr Bevan found maladministration because the rights of the former college board were ignored when inspected last spring. They made no attempt to inform governors of criticisms. The inspectorate "... fell well short of the duty lying on it".

The council objected when it saw the draft ombudsman's report. It said the ability of the inspectorate to execute its statutory duty would be severely undermined if it had to inform forer postholders of judgments before publication.

In four years between inspections there could have been changes in personnel, including dismissals, whom it would be impractical to find. Mr Bevan insisted they have an unqualified written apology and said their commitment and integrity should be confirmed.

When the Wirral had large debts it was trying to sell one of its sites. This was strongly opposed by Wirral South MP Ben Chapman who said at the time it was not the college which had failed but the governors who had failed the college. The council's regional director helped the college look for governors and approached Mr Chapman.

Mr Bevan's report said the council, under chief executive David Melville, was close to "selected local political interests".

Mr Bevan said: "It is understandable that the college should regard an approach to Ben Chapman as inappropriate and as being indicative of a particular attitude towards the college." But there was no maladministration.

The council is not bound to accept the recommendations of the ombudsman.

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