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Man moves on paper mountain

The "red-tape tsar" appointed to cut bureaucracy in colleges has called for a permanent watchdog on paperwork.

Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley College, Merseyside, was chosen by the Learning and Skills Council in November to head a taskforce to reduce admin in FE by a quarter.

The creation of the "LSC bureaucracy-busting taskforce" at the Association of Colleges' annual conference in Birmingham, followed a national outcry over the paperwork that was draining more than pound;50 million a year from teaching and learning.

Sir George's taskforce met for the first time at LSC head offices in Coventry this week. They identified a communications failure and lack of trust in the judgment of professionals behind "a culture of bureaucracy and distrust".

Sir George is confident that the taskforce will find solutions to immediate and longer-term problems in the six months it has been given to draw-up recommendations. But carrying them out and preventing new mountains of paperwork is another thing, he says.

"One of the things to look at is a permanent structure. It might be a bureaucracy watchdog. You have a culture that grows and you are not going to change it without action."

The taskforce has the backing of officials and ministers at all levels. Margaret Hodge, minister for lifelong learning, said: "We must free colleges from bureaucracy and let them get on with the job of concentrating on students. I want to see swift improvements."

John Harwood, LSC chief executive, said: "We will not shy away from a radical change in the approach to funding, audit and data collection if our consultation and assessment show there is a need."

While the taskforce was an LSC initiative, ministers see it as part of the bigger picture along with the Better Regulation Taskforce, working for the Cabinet Office.

Full report, 33

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