Editor's comment

16th January 2004 at 00:00
Has the departing chairman of the Learning and Skills Council Bryan Sanderson done a good job? He certainly helped change the culture, shaping a leaner and more efficient enterprise than was created in 2001. He has been charming and quietly ruthless throughout.

He alarmed many with his pledge to survey and publish consumer views of post-16 education and training warts and all. Nothing like it had been seen before. It was Sanderson who issued the abject apology for the gaffe his chief executive John Harwood made when overstating in the media the poor performance of colleges - a blunder from which Harwood never really recovered. And no one doubts Sanderson's central role in replacing him with Mark Haysom.

Sanderson describes himself as "the midwife at the birth of the LSC", a job now complete. In fact, he has been much more than midwife. He operated just as he did as chair of BP, which he rescued from disaster, restructuring management and organisation with a huge clear out. (He will be silently wishing he could say the same as chair of Sunderland FC. Unfortunately he saw them relegated from the football Premiership.) Over the past two weeks we have seen a huge shake-up of the LSC; first with the creation of the regional offices and this week with clear-out and slimming down of the national office. This is Haysom's doing, but as Sanderson's protege.

For Sanderson, the public sector is 30 years behind the times. It is like BP in the 70s. Instead of leaving staff in jobs for years, regardless, you have to "get rid of people" from time to time, he insists.

There is an increasingly optimistic view in colleges of what the LSC can do through measures to cut red-tape, improve trust and devolve control from the centre. So he has done at least part of his job well. But the council still remains obscure to the public and many businesses.

However, in one sense he has achieved a great deal, creating a potential silk purse from a sow's ear. It is easy to forget what a mess the organisation was at the outset. It was a clumsy merger of FE funding and training quangos that failed to attract quality staff in sufficient numbers. Sanderson has overseen the transition - without government ministers who created the quango losing face.

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