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Jobs under threat as Welsh post-16 body regroups

William Gwynne reports from Fforwm's annual conference in Cardiff last week.

REVAMPING the troubled Welsh education body ELWa, with the loss of up to 100 jobs, could lead to better management and more transparency, FE Focus was told this week.

Fforwm's chief executive, John Graystone, speaking at ELWa's annual conference in Cardiff last week, said he regretted the need to axe jobs, adding: "We hope that the cuts won't diminish its efficiency."

A spokesman for ELWa, in charge of post-16 education in Wales, said that "slimming down its management structure and reducing overall staff numbers" would reduce running costs and bring its "prime objectives" into focus.

The organisation, which plans to centre its directorates in Bedwas, south-east Wales, has come under fire following a report by the Auditor General for Wales into payments made without ministerial approval.

Mr Graystone said he believed job losses could "cut out some bureaucracy", while the changes signified a "recognition that they have to build on lessons learned in the past".

"We also hope that it will bring about greater transparency within its operation and improve communication with colleges in Wales," he added. ELWa badly needed a "tighter management structure", said the Fforwm chief, a problem recognised by the body's decision to focus its administration in Bedwas. Its scattered offices and staff had in the past made it hard for colleges to contact ELWa personnel. "We found that decisions were taken and we were not informed until too late in the day," said Mr Graystone. "What we're looking for is a management structure that does communicate with us."

The Welsh Assembly's education minister, Jane Davidson, acknowledged the "difficulties" identified by the Auditor General in connection with ELWa but said its acting chief executive, Peter Higson, would be implementing a "full recovery plan". The measures included a "robust system of public- sector controls to ensure that the highest standards of public service are achieved", she added.

Dr Higson was the target of media comment last week over claims that he did not go through an open selection process before being appointed last September.

ELWa later issued a statement, defending its decision to appoint Dr Higson after he was "seconded" from the North Wales Health Authority.

Dr Higson's "interim role" was based on a "rolling month-to-month contract pending the appointment of a permanent chief executive through open competition", the statement read. He was selected after a process in which "the National Council approached a total of four individuals to ask if they would be interested in the temporary post".

"Given the nature of the role of acting chief executive and the nature of Dr Higson's secondment it was not appropriate to seek applications from other candidates at that time," the ELWa statement stressed.

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