MPs critical of Blair's blitz on bureaucracy

The red tape surrounding further education is in such a tangle that MPs say they "do not have full confidence" in the Government to unravel it. So now the Commons education select committee intends to probe deeper into the bureaucracy surrounding the work of colleges which, it suspects, the Government has failed to get to grips with - despite repeated reviews.

The committee's latest report on the state of FE shows MPs' frustration over what they call "a baffling array of organisations and red tape strangling the sector".

The situation, they say, remains confusing despite a string of Government statements about simplifying the system.

In recent years, colleges have seen the launch of the bureaucracy-busting "task force", headed by Knowsley College principal Sir George Sweeney, which, in turn, gave birth to Sir Andrew Foster's panel on bureaucracy.

Sir Andrew went on to lead an inquiry into the future role of further education.

Still, say MPS, the picture remains messy. Their report states: "The present system and funding mechanisms for skills training appear incoherent, over-complex, burdensome, and often act as a barrier to further education's development rather than supporting it.

"Although some reorganisation is in train, we do not have full confidence that the intended outcome - a simplified structure for further education - will be achieved."

The MPs say the Department for Education and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council need to function more efficiently.

The committee looked at more than 30 organisations involved in making further education happen. They include four Government departments, two inspectorates, and several quangos, including the Learning and Skills Council, the country's largest.

The committee quoted a Government statement on the situation which said "over time, we will look for further rationalisations which will make it much clearer".

The report responded by saying: "This is insufficiently specific and indicates that ministers are not approaching the problem with the urgency it merits."

The report goes on to say there is "compelling evidence" of important college courses being axed as a result of funding cuts.

Committee chairman Barry Sheerman said: "The Government's mantra of 'more plumbing, less pilates' grossly over-simplifies the wide benefits that can be gained from further education, not just for individuals but for communities as well. Many courses available to adult learners are helpful to their careers and should be recognised as such.

"While I welcome the Government's recent statements on the importance of further education, the Department for Education and Skills still has to improve its planning and funding framework, and to spell out to colleges the practical implications of its policies."

Barry Lovejoy, from the University and College Union, said: "The Government has created an unhelpful and confusing divide between courses that lead to greater employability and courses that don't, resulting in a growing crisis in adult education."

Bill Rammell, further and higher education minister, said: "This Government is determined to transform the further education sector and deliver the world class system we need for our future prosperity.

"This thorough and considered report supports many of the sweeping reforms set out in our recent further education White Paper. We want a system that is truly responsive to learners and employers.

"We will give the detailed recommendations in the report careful consideration before responding later in the autumn."

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