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Sir Bob to ensure merger is on track

Neil Munro and Lucy Ward watch the birth of the new order north and south of the border.

Former British Rail chairman Sir Bob Reid was named this week as the man charged with bringing harmony to the strife-ridden FE sector.

Sir Bob will chair an independent panel to steer the Association for Colleges and the Colleges' Employers' Forum towards merger.

The move follows the establishment of one voice for college staff and managers north of the border, the Association for Scottish Colleges.

Sir Bob was chosen as the independent chair of the six-member panel by its two parent bodies who each contribute three representatives. It is due to hold its first meeting on October 3.

Assisted by Ken Ruddiman, principal of The Sheffield College and Newcastle College principal Mike Rowarth, Sir Bob will manage a series of regional strategy meetings aiming to tie the merger knot within 12 months.

Sir Bob, now chairman of London Electricity, who is already bringing his no-nonsense approach to further education as head of the Further Education Funding Council's quality assessment committee, calls suggestions of a potential clash between CEF and AFC management styles "a storm in a tea-cup".

"There are only 24 people on the executive committee - that's not much more than a rugby team. I won't believe so few can't find a way to get on.

"Their objectives are fairly congenial and I think they will be able to articulate their joint aims without any problem."

The merger panel could look north of the border for a model for an acrimony-free union. The Association of Scottish Colleges, which elected its first board three weeks ago, has taken over remarkably painlessly from the FE Employers' Association, the Association of Principals of Colleges and the Association for Colleges.

But there are signs of discontent as Ray Baker, who chairs the ASC, bristles at what he describes as "nannying" of the colleges by the Scottish Office Education Department, which handles college funding north of the border.

Mr Baker wants the ASC to have a central role in the distribution of the Pounds 250 million FE cake in Scotland. He accuses the Government of "failing to operate in the spirit of the Act," which gave colleges independence from local authorities.

His plea to loosen central controls may find Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth in receptive mood.

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