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FE Focus Editor's comment

Before colleges left local education authority control in 1993 it was common to have 200 people applying for a principal's job. Now they are lucky to get 20. The number of applicants with leadership skills has collapsed at all levels of management.

That is why the Centre for Excellence in Leadership - which held its first annual conference this week - was launched. Unlesstalent is nurtured with training, the supply pool will continue to dry up.

But these skills don't come cheap. College leaders are rightly fearful of signing cheques of up to pound;6,000 per trainee, for two reasons. First, many courses on offer will only just have passed the trial stage. Second, it is a huge cost that, in these increasingly cash-strapped times, colleges can ill afford.

The Government has to ensure that these courses are affordable - and that means committing extra money. Of course colleges should foot part of the bill as an incentive to ensure that the right calibre of staff is picked for the programmes.

But, as Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, points out on page 1, staff development is one of the first areas to go when a college is in trouble. That means those who most need the training are least likely to get it.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, must make sure the necessary cash is available - through a specific funding stream if necessary. It need not be bound up in red tape with needless paperwork. Besides, few colleges would complain if the cash was there. In this world of never-endingbureaucracy, there are some things over which principals would prefer their hands to be tied.

The funding of the centre is guaranteed for the next three years, after which it must be self-sufficient. This alone should be a big spur to efficiency. But there are other incentives which could be introduced. If colleges had the right to look outside the centre for their management and leadership training needs, this would focus the minds of course designers.

The need for radical improvement in leadership skills is too urgent to afford any time quibbling over where the money will come from.

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