The Government continues to require the public sector to work more efficiently while delivering high-quality service. It has recently stated that further efficiencies will be required and public spending will need to be reduced to address the budget deficit.
Everyone within the college sector would support these aims. But it's a pity the Government doesn't follow its own advice.
Since incorporation in 1993, student numbers and success rates have increased significantly, and the quality of service in colleges is rated very highly by our students.
Our reward for achieving an effective, efficient service is the proposed imposition of a new funding and control system from next April that will severely damage the sector, and thereby students. It will happen at a time when FE is expected to deliver the training and reskilling needed for recovery from recession.
Under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, the Government plans to move control of FE from a single quango, the Learning and Skills Council, to three new ones and an existing one, with funding for 16- to 18-year-olds channelled through 150 councils. The Government asserts this will make the sector more responsive to local needs.
It's madness. How can a college run efficiently with five or more different masters? Some colleges enrol students from as many as 30 different councils.
The complexity and cost of providing the funding, reporting and decision- making processes that will be involved under this new scenario can only be imagined.
During the past 26 months, the FE sector has consistently explained to the Government that such a system will be unworkable and costly. As the vice- chair of the College Finance Directors' Group, I have been deeply involved with discussions on the detail. Alas, senior officials and ministers have chosen to ignore us, so the disastrous plan forges ahead.
We are preparing for a general election and a new government will have to pick up the pieces of this debacle.
So this is a final plea to ministers and MPs: if you want an efficient, high-quality FE sector and agree that taxpayers' money should be used to provide cost-effective public services, then vote against this bill.
Maurice Patterson, Vice-chair, College Finance Directors' Group.