The Government has ordered the Further Education Funding Council to reduce its running costs by 5 per cent within three years. Lucy Ward reports. The colleges' funding body is to axe jobs and cut back inspection and auditing to meet swingeing budget cuts.
The Further Education Funding Council has been told by its government paymasters that it must slash its running costs by 5 per cent within the next three years.
The FEFC has admitted the reduction, which will see its budget shrink to Pounds 23 million in 1998-99, will mean staff cuts. It is not yet clear how many posts are to go or how the losses will be distributed between the organisation's Coventry headquarters and its nine regional offices.
The FEFC has announced plans to carry out a full review of its activities and priorities. It predicts it will need to cut the cost of its monitoring activities, including inspection, audit and the checks it keeps on colleges' financial health.
Looser controls could spell problems for colleges at a time when many are suffering serious financial difficulties. A minority are known to have slipped perilously close to disaster.
The FEFC is expected to become more selective in the attention it gives to ensure trouble-hit colleges receive support. The council is also to review training, travel and subsistence, consultancies and information systems projects.
The biggest drain on the council's purse is the inspectorate, which this year is expected to consume Pounds 8.9m - more than a third of the FEFC's total running costs of Pounds 23.6m. Education programmes will cost Pounds 5. 9m, finance a further Pounds 5m and secretariat expenditure will be Pounds 3.8m.
Announcing the cuts in its corporate plan for 1996-99, the FEFC estimates it will have to make 12 per cent efficiency savings during the period to absorb the budget reduction.
The FEFC's straitened circumstances may attract little sympathy from colleges battling to keep on top of their own funding problems. Colleges are having to make running costs savings of at least 5 per cent each year to stay in line with Government funding cuts and tough student enrolment targets.
The corporate plan also sets out the FEFC's aims and objectives up to March 1999, and performance measures it intends to use. The targets include improving the specification of arrangements for validating funding claims by December, with changes to the arrangements due by the end of 1997.
The FEFC also pledges to publish 120 inspection reports by August each year, including 85 per cent within 10 working weeks of inspection.
* Colleges with complaints against the funding council have been told how they can seek redress. The FEFC has published terms of reference for its newly-appointed ombudsman, John Bevan, who will provide independent external scrutiny when the council's internal complaints procedures have been exhausted.
The process will begin with a check that the complaint has been considered under the FEFC's own procedures, followed by a decision on whether the case should be considered immediately by the ombudsman or should first be investigated by another individual.
Evidence will then be gathered to determine whether there is a case to consider and whether it falls within the scope of the system, before a draft report and initial conclusions are produced and passed to the council for comment.
A final report will outline conclusions and, if maladministration is found, recommendations on action the council might take. The ombudsman will also take up complaints from council staff who feel the organisation's codes of conduct have been breached.
However, he will not deal with staff or students' complaints against colleges, which must be dealt with through institutions' own grievance procedures.