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Ministers opt for post-16 agency

A SINGLE body to oversee all post-16 education and training - save universities - is being considered by the Government in what would be the biggest change since colleges became independent in 1993.

Ministers are considering setting up an executive agency to give the Government greater control over the sector - a move which is seen to be essential because of the substantially increased funds ministers intend to provide.

It would take over the functions of the Further Education Funding Council and training and enterprise councils' training role. Its responsibilities would include the careers service.

The TECs' enterprise role would be taken over by the new Small Business Service announced by Steve Byers, the Trade and Industry Secretary, earlier this month.

Ministers consider the current situation chaotic, because of the wasteful duplication of provision, and diverse costs of courses which should cost the same. TECs are accused of being too bureaucratic.

David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, has requested his Permanent Secretary Michael Bichard to lead a working group on the review.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has asked for the report in mid-May.

The consultative group, which will to test out some of the ideas, will include a government office regional director, and representatives from FE, TECs, careers services and training providers.

The TECs know that their future is threatened. Last week they were told that they should only enter into contracts with training providers for six months.

It is still unclear how the new national body would work with regional development agencies, which come on stream at the beginning of next month. But it is understood that the Government wants more power to go to the regions so it is likely that the RDAs would commission training locally, acting on behalf of the new body.

Leader, 12 FE Focus, 23

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