Editor's comment

8th October 2004 at 01:00
Whichever way you look at the staffing figures for the Learning and Skills Council, there is a problem.

As reported on page 1, the council admits to being 131 posts short of the number budgeted for this year. Unions representing staff say it is nearer 500. This is on top of the 800 the council decided to cut almost two years ago in an effort to create a leaner more efficient council, they say.

When the LSC announced the cull of staff from the national office in Coventry and the 47 local councils, there were universal cheers from college bosses and managers. They saw this as part of the much-vaunted cut in bureaucracy and red tape and devolution of control and cash to the colleges.

Little did they expect that around pound;100 million extra would gratuitously fall into some laps as a result of management problems. Again, the main staff union puts it down to serious mismanagement resulting from staff shortages. No, says the council, this is due to "an IT contractor error", which it is pursuing as a matter of urgency.

Such a serious error begs the question: why bring the contractors in? And, if you do bring them in, whose responsibility is it - within the council - to provide the necessary checks and balances?

The council contests the interpretation of the data seen by FE Focus. But the union says the council cannot hide the 500 jobs. It also insists the figures were presented by the councils human resources department in July, which regarded them as up-to-date.

The funding errors cannot be unpicked from the question of adequate staffing levels, which have dogged the council ever since it was created from a hasty merger of the Further Education Funding Council and the training and enterprise councils.

Things can only get worse as the unions ballot for action over Chancellor Gordon Brown's call for a further cull of civil servants across all government departments. Will the council have staff transferred from Work and Pensions or the Department for Education and Skills?

Staff say they want a commitment from the council such that they will get the resources and support for work they are statutorily required to do.

This is not unreasonable, given the state of insecurity that Brown's recent announcement has already created. Can all the local LSCs really say they have the staff they need to help manage the learning and skills sector effectively?

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