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Early targets abandoned

Bureaucracy busters appointed last autumn to slash paperwork in colleges rapidly abandoned the 25 per cent target set by the Learning and Skills Council.

Sir George Sweeney, the chairman, says in the group's final report, published this week: "Something unexpected happened when the task force began its work. We had thought that our task was something like reducing the number of screws and nuts and bolts holding the model together."

But if they had, the group realised, "the model still would not do what it was intended to do".

Also, a salutary lesson coincided with the LSC task force's first meetings. There was an outcry from school heads that, far from the Government meeting its pledge to cut paperwork, "less means more".

Colleges were to experience the same shortly after, with the effects of a ministerial edict to cut the number of funding streams bid for by managers from 17 to three. Instead of slashing the huge demand for data, it merely shifted responsibility from the national office to 47 local LSCs. Problems in both cases stemmed from a lack of trust and poor accountability.

The final report stresses "the need for a new and quite different relationship between the LSC, nationally and locally, and providers.

"We are not advocating any less accountability, but a different kind - in quantity and quality." In the words of the Cambridge philosopher Onora O'Neill in this year's Reith lectures, the group wants "more intelligent accountability", says Sir George.

"The task force reached the judgment early on that pursuing a speedy 25 per cent reduction in bureaucracy would have no lasting impact on the sector."

Instead, it was necessary to treat the cause, not the symptoms of the malaise.

There had been some significant improvements over the past year, "but they often seem to be outweighed by the remorseless accretion of new demands".

The task force is convinced that what is to be gained "is well worth the wait". The report lists six "shared commitments" which all parties must sign up to if the list of 31 detailed recommendations are to be achieved:

* vision and values

* leadership

* collaborative working

* the sharing of informationand data

* accountability

* prime focus on teaching and learning The scope of the task force inquiry was limited to colleges in the hope that "if we can get it right here, the lessons learned can be translated and applied more widely".

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