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Power for the regions boosted

Wide-ranging powers will be handed from the Further Education Funding Council to the regional committees next year in the biggest devolution programme since the sector was formed four years ago.

David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, said: "I want to see more of a regional focus with many more decisions taken at a local level. Decision-making should start locally and finish up here."

Professor Melville, speaking on the anniversary of his appointment, sketched a five-year view of collaboration and co-operation post-16.

A radical restructuring of the internal organisation of the FEFC was carried out this week. It involved setting up four "directorates" for education, finance, funding and strategy, and inspection and audit.

It coincided with the publication of the council's thinking following a fundamental review of the funding methodology. This supports the accelerated moves towards a common average level of funding for all colleges by 2001.

But he stressed that all of the developments to date were "a first stage" in wider reform to reflect the Government's thinking of regional planning and organisation.

The new central structures and approach to funding will release cash to assist those facing problems from the funding convergence programme. "Where help is needed, teams associated with a particular college will be convened at a local level."

Debates on the future of the regions in the new year will look at how much control the committees will have over cash and organisation. "I think the number and size of the regions is broadly in line with the Government thinking," Professor Melville said.

A typical example of the powers a region would adopt are those associated with the convergence programme. Under the ideas published this week, a college with low average spending can be pulled up more quickly.

The regions would also be responsible for implementing policies now under review, such as the Government's commitment to equitable funding for schools, colleges and training and enterprise companies post-16.

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