If cash saved from reform of the Learning and Skills Council (page 2) is ploughed back into teaching, it will be a welcome change. Unions fighting the loss of 800 clerical jobs will have a hard case to argue.
The time for strategic regional offices with much-reduced but well-focused local branches is long overdue. So, is there an argument for ditching the council and putting everything under the control of regional development agencies (RDAs), as Mayor Ken Livingstone wants for London? (page 1) Certainly not. The LSC is imperfect but its intentions are to cut red tape and administration costs and make the organisation simpler and more transparent. In other words less government not more. Colleges and other providers should be clear, therefore, where the money goes. Could the same be said if they were run by RDAs? Remember the GLC (under Livingstone) and large local authorities, which became bastions of bureaucracy.
Regionalism does not automatically make change easier. When East Sussex LSC proposed radical reform post-16, Jacqui Smith, the schools minister, was wheeled out in the dead of summer to kill it off. A schools minister, note, not a skills minister. With Tony Blair's desire to give schools even greater autonomy, things are unlikely to change. Colleges likewise will need more autonomy, not less.
Also, modern colleges with 30,000-plus students and pound;40 million budgets are as big as universities. Will Mr Livingstone bid to control them also? He argues that the LSC has been too tame, lacking "appetite or capability" for tough decisions. But what happens when they do act tough? The Strategic Area Review of post-16 education last winter was not followed through because, leading up to the election, the last thing the Labour Government wanted was a call to close school sixth forms.
New Labour created the LSC in an inept attempt to stitch together training and enterprise councils and the old funding council - in a way that would not offend its mates in big business. The wholesale review of the way the LSC works, not least in London, is a well-focused effort to move beyond that unwieldy organisation.
Colleges are under many microscopes, with the Foster review, Agenda for Change and Gershon and Leitch reviews. A strong feature of the current changes is the creation of regional and local offices with clearly- defined, different responsibilities, not two layers of government and bureaucracy. This needs to be given a chance.