7th November 2003 at 00:00
Two years ago an ebullient John Harwood strode to the rostrum at the Association of Colleges annual conference, as chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council, to declare war on bureaucracy. He vowed to cut the workload by a quarter within 12 month.

His soundbite, at the height of a concerted FE FocusAoC campaign to cut red tape, won the hearts if not minds of the amassed college leaders. They did not really believe the line about a 25 per cent cut but they dearly wanted to.

At next week's AoC annual conference, Harwood's successor Mark Haysom will raise the stakes, vowing a personal campaign not only against red tape but all the jargon and arcanery that goes with it.

It is a moot point whether it is the volume of work or impenetrability that is the greater burden. How does 100 pages of data on exams compare with one page of funding methodology? Try the latest bureaucracy task force report: an easy read up to page 13 - then a section on funding brings everything to a grinding halt.

That is why there is still deep-seated cynicism in FE (more than anywhere else) towards the continuing pledges to cut the load - a point of great concern raised in the report.

Red tape and the paper mountains grew inexorably for 10 years after incorporation as politicians told colleges they had free rein and bureaucrats then called them to account for every penny spent.

George Sweeney, chairman of the task force, says colleges should drop their guard. "The opposite of cynicism is not necessarily naivety, it may be realism," he insists.

Not everyone shares this view. John Brennan, chief executive of the AoC is doing more than sabre-rattling when he warns that many colleges have experienced more, not less, bureaucracy over the past year. And where do we find the biggest offender? In the funding methodology.

Mr Haysom must note what has happened. The reforms weighing so many colleges down came before he took office. His war on jargon could be the catalyst needed for greater trust.

The latest LSC survey of how colleges and other providers judge its performance reveals the need for "clearer and simpler" systems of communication and a review of circulars and guidance notes. Small providers still feel "swamped" by information. This is about the language used as much as the volume of paper.

Mr Haysom's attack on jargon is welcome but no easy task As a former journalist, he will know that cutting red tape and paperwork is nothing compared with changing the language of a nation.

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