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Labour loyal to local voices

A self-appointed think-tank close to college employers' leaders has been given short shrift by Labour for its pre-emptive strike against increased local accountability.

A discussion paper by the new College Principals' Policy Forum is being seen by some in the sector as a pre-general election move against any proposals to fetter corporations and limit competition.

The document suggests any external interference could prompt an exodus of governors and a "reduction in effectiveness". Its authors say they aim to state the colleges' case in the face of what they see as increased scrutiny of the sector.

But arguments in the paper against broader local representation on governing bodies have met a cool reception from Labour, which has signalled its intention to make colleges directly accountable to regional government.

The party's further education spokesman, Bryan Davies, said: "What is clear is that local authority representatives are important in reflecting the perspective of local communities and they should be welcomed by governing bodies, not be kept at arm's length, as this document appears to indicate. "

But he insisted colleges, like other organisations, needed to think more regionally.

Lord Nolan's committee, due to report at Easter in its inquiry into the accountability of local public bodies, could recommend earmarking seats on college boards for local authority representatives.

The College Principals' Policy Forum, an 18-strong, "invitation only" group with its roots in the research committee of the Colleges' Employers' Forum, angered some in the sector with its no-compromise stance.

One principal said: "This is a no-turning-back group, wanting nothing but competition. They claim only the weak colleges disagree with their approach, but others which have benefited from incorporation are also opposed."

Nick Lewis of Broxtowe College, Nottingham, one of three principals leading the forum, insisted the group was "a broad church", embracing a wide range of views as it attempted to promote independence for the FE sector.

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