It takes too many to quango

15th September 2006 at 01:00
No matter how hard it tries, this Government seems incapable of getting it right when it comes to cutting bureaucracy. No one doubts its intention to do so. But nothing significant will be achieved until ministers clear the ground of quangos and official bodies that get in the way of organisations providing services.

This week, yet again, further education has come under the microscope with two reports attacking the "baffling array" of red tape and organisations still strangling the sector. The first is from the Commons education select committee which says it lacks confidence in Government to take action (page 3). The second is from the EEF (formerly the Engineering Employers'

Federation). Ian Peters, director of external affairs, said: "A plethora of organisations at different levels are tripping over each other. There's a lot of waste."

The select committee's response is to launch yet another "deeper" probe into the red tape surrounding colleges. The EEF's solution is a radical reduction in the 25 sector skills councils charged with setting training standards across industry. The SSCs will have a considerable impact on all people working and learning in colleges, and this needs to be positive. The numerous bodies making demands on colleges impede genuine efforts by ministers to help colleges become more responsive. They do not sing with one voice. Much legislation and policy reform has called for more collaboration. But too often there are squabbles among local authorities, college organisations, regional councils and employers over who "leads" the partnerships.

Four years ago Sir George Sweeney' s Bureaucracy Task force made 39 recommendations, all accepted by the Government and the Learning and Skills Council which included greater independence and self-regulation. A self-regulation group was created last year - again under Sir George.

That group held a summit in Windsor this week and will hold another next month to construct a clear action plan. Everyone knows that colleges will need to earn the right to self-regulation - and this will depend on good inspection grades and hitting targets. But the Government should also seize this opportunity to spell out what will be done to reduce the baffling array of organisations. As FE Focus pointed out last week, red tape costs more than pound;500 million a year.

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