A WIDE-RANGING survey of the way colleges are run has been launched by the National Audit Office following its investigation into allegations of misappropriation of public funds at Halton college.
A 10-page questionnaire, sent to the principals and chairs of governors of more than 100 colleges over the summer and leaked to The TES, asks for details of their procedures for governance, auditing, procurement and expenses.
The 44-question survey, the first comprehensive sector-wide study of college management practices, is an attempt to measure the procedures of the sector as a whole against those at Halton.
The covering letter admits: "The National Audit Office is currently investigating allegations of poor management and control at one college. Prior to reporting on it, we would like to be able to form a view on how the procedures in use at (that) college contrast with the way things are done elsewhere." One principal remarked: "They are going to use it as a stick to beat Halton with."
Among general questions about the college's schedule of meetings and register of interests are pointed enquiries into travel expenses and credit cards - both of which figure prominently in the allegations against Halton's principal Martin Jenkins and his deputy Jenny Dolphin.
The NAO is currently studying the findings of the survey, which was completed by 112 institutions chosen at random from around the country, and is likely to make follow-up visits to some colleges.
The survey will form part of its report on further education which will go to Comptroller General Sir John Bourn before Christmas. Officials at the NAO are confident that he will release its findings to Parliament.
The Further Education Funding Council's final report into the Halton affair, which has been repeatedly delayed owing to the complexity of the case, is now expected sometime next month. A team from the FEFC, which has been working to evaluate the sums of money involved in funding claims made by the previous administration at Halton, is due to announce its findings in the next couple of weeks.
David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, has written to management at Halton outlining the likely course of action the FEFC will take against the college.
Meanwhile, Mr Jenkins and Ms Dolphin are understood to have sent to the investigating authorities a vast, three-volume body of evidence refuting all the allegations against them.