College leaders are demanding ministers strip training and enterprise councils of their right to have a say over the running of colleges.
The alternative is that all colleges be given a seat on the boards of TECs, says Roger Ward, chief executive of the Association of Colleges. "The present arrangements are wholly against Lord Nolan's guidelines on standards in public service, and the previous government failed to tackle it," he said.
Mr Ward has effectively fired a warning shot across the bows of the TECs to accept Lord Nolan's recommendations on college representation. It will be seen as part of the wider tussle for control in the new regional planning arrangements being considered by Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett.
At present, colleges are required to submit their strategic plans to their local TEC for approval. There is no reciprocal requirement that TECs should have college representatives on their boards, and the feeling of inequity rankles highly with the colleges.
The Nolan Committee on Standards in Public Life said the automatic representation of the TECs and LECs on college governing bodies should be ended but the last government refused to act on the recommendation.
Mr Ward has sent a strongly-worded letter to Chris Humphries, chief executive of the TEC National Council. He writes that the college sector remains "deeply disturbed" about the inequitable state of affairs in which colleges were required to submit their plans to TECs for approval, while some TECs did not have college representatives on their board.
"The AOC does not wish to tolerate this situation any longer. Given that the hallmark of the new Government is its inclusive nature, I believe it is time the TEC National Council changed its own policy towards our member colleges to reflect the mood of the times," he said.
In the letter Mr Ward invites Mr Humphries to propose fully reciprocal arrangements between colleges and TECs. "Alternatively you may have other ideas in mind."
But Mr Humphries was dismissive of Mr Ward's approach. He said: "The Secretary of State has announced his intention to introduce new planning arrangements for colleges. He is seeking to bring in a better degree of planning at the sub-regional level, in order to increase labour market relevance and ensure the local needs of the community are met.
"It would not be right to make any unilateral change until it is clear what the Secretary of State's intentions are. It has to be a wait and see approach. The simplistic analysis by Roger Ward does not have regard to the whole picture."
Mr Ward was given strong support for his demands this week. Steve Broomhead, president elect of the Association of College management, said: "I would totally endorse what Roger has said. The TECs seem very much a closed book compared to the colleges.
"TECs have the transparency of a concrete block in terms of their governance and practice. There's no degree of public accountability."
Stafford College principal Christine Megson said it was crucial for colleges to have a seat on TEC boards. Staffordshire principals have been co-operating on a shared strategic plan, she said. "With funding tight, we are seeing much more collaboration."
* Andrew Smith, the employment minister, has made it clear that he wants co-operation not confrontation to carry through the Government's Welfare to Work programme.
He told a conference of 200 people - hosted by Manchester Training and Enterprise Council - that the voluntary sector, business people and community groups would need to be "an army of evangelists" enthusing people to take part in the programme.
"We are not in the business of introducing yet another government scheme. Indeed we will have failed if the New Deal is seen as a product of central government at all," said Mr Smith, in his first speech as minister.