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Post-16 quango sitting on cash pile

Colleges furious at 'underspend' by the LSC. Steve Hook reports

NEARLY a quarter of a billion pounds which was available for post-16 education has been left unspent or has been used up on bureaucracy.

The figures are recorded in the first annual accounts of the Learning and Skills Council.

The quango - the UK's largest, with a budget of pound;6 billion in its first year - spent pound;167.7 million less than it received from the Department for Education and Skills during the 12 months from 2001-2.

It was pound;60m above budget on administration, suggesting a global figure of pound;227.7m which could have been spent on education and training but was not.

Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons education select committee, said:

"It is a shock. My local LSC wants to do innovative things with adults and yet it hasn't got the budget. So why is the money not being made available?

"I will talk to Bryan Sanderson, LSC chairman, today about this."

He said he will also challenge David Normington, permanent secretary of the DfES, about the cash surplus.

The adult education and training budget was underspent by pound;292.9m.

There was good news, though, for the UK's teenagers. The young people's committee of the LSC, chaired by Chris Banks, who is tipped to become the next LSC chief executive, actually spent pound;56.1m more than its budget.

The LSC overspent by pound;9.1m on infrastructure.

David Gibson, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that there was a pound;149m underspend on colleges alone - representing thousands of "lost opportunities" for potential students.

The news is greeted with dismay by the lecturers' union Natfhe, which holds its annual conference in Blackpool tomorrow.

It says the money could have gone a long way to meeting lecturers' demand for pay parity with school teachers. It estimates the 12 per cent pay gap would cost pound;384m to close.

Paul Mackney, general secretary of Natfhe, said: "This underspend is yet more proof, if any were needed, that this is not about whether the Government has the money.

"It is about whether it has the political will so do something about lecturers' pay."

The AoC has written to John Harwood, chief executive of the LSC, demanding to know where the cash has gone, although it says some of the pound;60m overspend on administration may have been used between October 2000, when the LSC was created as a shadow body, and April 2001, when it took control of post-16 The AoC estimates colleges have been deprived of pound;73m in money for increasing student numbers, and a further pound;76m which should have come from the standards fund.

Mr Gibson said: "It represents lost opportunities for people wanting an education and training.

"We want reassurances from John Harwood that this isn't going to happen again."

"We get a secretary of state saying 'there's all this money' and colleges saying 'we haven't got it'. And then, when the year is over, you find out the colleges are right.

"There is all this money that didn't reach us. I would have expected the accounts to come out in the summer or even the autumn of 2002 - but I wouldn't expect them to take 13 months."

An LSC spokesman stressed the underspend still meant the LSC had used up 98 per cent of its budget for the year and money can be carried over into following years.

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