A secret survey of college principals has revealed deep and widespread dissatisfaction with the Learning and Skills Council, the body that funds further education.
Nearly three out of four (73 per cent) who responded to the survey said they were not satisfied with the performance of the LSC, with just 10 per cent believing it was doing a better job than its predecessor, the Further Education Funding Council.
Only 2 per cent agreed that the LSC had the staffing and skills to be effective, and 79 per cent said the structure of the funding body was not working well.
The poll of principals was conducted by David Collins, head of South Cheshire college in Crewe, one of only a handful of tertiary and general FE colleges to be rated outstanding by Office for Standards in Education inspectors.
He sent a questionnaire last month to the 317 college heads registered on the principals' e-mail bulletin board. His findings are contained in a 50-page report based on the 127 replies, a 40 per cent response rate.
Explaining why he conducted the poll, he said: "I was aware of a number of inconsistencies between (local) LSCs in terms of their response to particular issues, and I wondered if that was a common problem."
Dr Collins hopes to fix a meeting between Mark Haysom, the LSC's chief executive, and a group of principals who replied to the survey. He has written to Mr Haysom saying: "I believe that there are a number of very clear messages as to how some of the current difficulties and weaknesses might be addressed."
The survey, he said, was meant to be private. "We have not made this survey public. This is a personal initiative and I would like to discuss it with the LSC and the Department for Education and Skills before commenting on it.
"I obviously hope that there will be a positive outcome to the survey. The objective is to get an improvement in the operational relationship between colleges and the LSC."
He insisted the survey was conducted "with a view to moving forward the relationship with the LSC in the spirit of partnership".
"The ball is now in the LSC's court on how to respond to the expressed views of 127 principals," he said Rob Wye, the LSC's director of strategy, said: "The results do not surprise me. They represent the views of only a proportion of college principals and it is to be expected that those with the strongest negative views would be the keenest to respond.
"Even accounting for that, it is not surprising that there is some negative feeling among college principals in what has been an enormously difficult funding round. Indeed, we believe the survey was prompted by dissatisfaction about funding."
The survey had been circulated to the LSC's management group of national and regional directors, he said, "so they can take action to ensure they are building trust and better relationships".
Mr Wye added: "It is always disappointing to get negative feedback, but the best thing for us to do is to learn from it. As well as the negative views there are a lot of positive comments as well.
"We always take note of such views, but the LSC will place greater store on genuinely independent research.
"It is worth noting that this survey was only responded to by one-third of all college principals. Having said that, we are far from complacent."
Survey results 3