Alarm at 11th-hour auditing changes
A circular issued by the Further Education Funding Council last month revised auditing arrangements with effect from last August while a memo sent out in November asked colleges for new information four months after the end of the financial year.
The changes have forced the council to move the accounts deadline back a month, but many colleges still fear penalties for late returns. Their workload had already increased last month with a new funding system to cope with the introduction of Curriculum 2000 later this year.
The Association of Colleges, says it has received complaints from "numerous" members. It has written to the council saying the timing of the changes was "quite unreasonable" and that normal timetables have been "thrown into total confusion".
In the letter to the council, association chief executive David Gibson says:
"It is more than a litle surprising that the council should issue the circular some four months after the end of the financial year and only a few weeks before the deadline for submission of the accounts."
The council has been keen to toughen up auditing arrangements in response to the Public Accounts Committee report into the failure of Halton College. The report criticised auditors Deloitte amp; Touche and made several recommendations which have since been adopted. However, the "big five" auditing firms are understood to have raised concerns with the council over the delay in notifying them of changed practices and the extra work involved.
A council spokesman said that the new arrangements were needed because of the new money the Government has put into the FE sector to help 16-19 year olds and widen participation - a move announced in November. He said: "This is the first time the Government has allocated funds for specific targets and it was discussed pretty extensively at the time."