Half the 1,000 head-office jobs at the Learning and Skills Council will be axed under plans to make the funding quango "more effective and more efficient".
With a cull of 1,300 posts planned by next summer, the cuts to the LSC go far deeper than previously predicted. An unspecified number of senior people will be the first to go, under reforms led by chief executive Mark Haysom.
However, the vast bulk of cuts are expected to be at the most junior clerical grades.
The Public and Commercial Services Union, representing LSC staff, was swift to condemn the cuts. Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said the plan "further exposes the crude cost-cutting in key services by the Government".
But college em-ployers praised the measures, which, Mr Haysom said, would redirect pound;40 million from bureaucracy to teaching and learning. John Brennan, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "We have been calling for some time for a more streamlined and focused approach to the management of the further education sector."
Mr Brennan said he welcomed Mr Haysom's decision to have less day-to-day involvement and to take a more strategic approach. He insisted that cuts in LSC jobs would be more than outweighed by the benefits to colleges. He said: "We recognise that implementation of these changes will be a difficult process for the LSC and its staff but we believe it essential in order to release resources to the front line to maximise the benefits for learners."
However, some senior LSC staff suggest that, with new challenges proposed for the council's reform blueprint, Agenda for Change, remaining staff could be overstretched and unable to deliver.
Mr Serwotka said: "We have warned that the cuts could wreak havoc with the delivery of vocational courses, apprenticeships and adult education, throwing the Government's skills agenda into disarray."
Several senior LSC managers who spoke to FE Focus said that while they did not share the "doom and gloom" of the PCS, they were concerned that the Agenda for Change was making significant new demands while the council was calling for significant cuts. One local LSC director said: "The agenda calls for a lot more work, like helping colleges with their procurement procedures."
Mr Haysom insisted no cuts had been firmly decided and there would be detailed consultations with the unions and directors before deciding specific figures. "The additional pound;40m could allow us to help an additional 12,000 young learners or 80,000 adults," he said.
The LSC had to be smaller, less bureaucratic, more dynamic and geared up to the needs of the customers, he said. There was no evidence that the essential work of the council would be impaired.
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