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Firm caution

While your article "Colleges could thrive as companies, says paper" (February 5) outlines some of the benefits of being freed from the bureaucratic constraints of the state - for example, the access to equity of third parties in the form of loan and bond issues via the London Stock Exchange - recent history suggests a liberal dose of caution in yet more proposed autonomy.

Evoking the scandal surrounding the first ever chief executive of the Association of Colleges, during those heady entrepreneurial days of post- 1992 incorporation, recalls not only allegations of intimidation across the sector but, memorably, the formation of a private staffing agency to facilitate the supply of cheaper agency lecturers at the expense of established full-time staff. In addition, there were numerous other incidents reported, including allegations of a principal running a pub while on extended sick leave, and others involving financial irregularities.

Your article closes with the vice-chair of the 157 Group declaring: "Personally, I think the publicly funded further education core must stay accountable to local communities." I concur.

Tony Fort, University and College Union joint branch secretary, Blackburn College.

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