It's all change at the top for lead skills agencies

20th January 2012 at 00:00
SFA and NAS heads announce resignations on the same day

The chief executives of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) and the National Apprenticeship Service (NAS) simultaneously announced on Tuesday that they were to stand down.

The SFA head, Geoff Russell, is taking retirement for the second time at the age of 53, while NAS chief executive Simon Waugh has decided to spend more time with his family after his contract expires next month.

Mr Russell, a retired executive from international financial services provider KPMG, joined the public sector to stabilise the troubled Learning and Skills Council before becoming the successor agency's first chief executive. According to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), he told officials in August last year that he intended to stand down. The department said that he had agreed to stay in post for 12 months to complete the restructuring, allow time to find a successor and hand over.

But that account of the delay is puzzling: nearly six months after his decision, there has been no progress towards finding a replacement, the department admitted. "It would not have been appropriate to advertise for his job before he had announced he was leaving," a spokeswoman said.

The announcement comes as the status of the SFA faces major change - it will move from having its own statutory powers to deriving all of its authority from ministers.

TES understands that the issue of the agency's independence has been a central one for Mr Russell and almost derailed his appointment in 2009; legal advice was taken to establish the scope of the chief executive's authority.

Mr Russell said that he had not intended to have a long-term role in the FE and skills sector after he was appointed to steer the Learning and Skills Council through its final months in the wake of the capital funding crisis. "But I have found working with the sector and agency colleagues very rewarding and have relished the task of establishing the organisation over my three years in the post," he added. "It has also been a pleasure to work under a minister whose passion is to further education and skills."

Skills minister John Hayes returned the praise for Mr Russell's three years in charge of FE funding. "Geoff has overseen the creation of the SFA and has shaped it into an organisation that is playing a key role in promoting and funding FE and giving young people and adults the skills they need to find well-paid and rewarding employment," he said.

The change in the agency's status will put Mr Hayes under more pressure, as any controversial funding decisions will be made more directly under his authority. In the words of former minister for skills John Denham, who presided over the capital crisis, arm's-length bodies are meant to "protect ministers from the political flak when things go wrong" - although he added that the theory "does not appear to work as well as some of us might have liked".

Mr Hayes also paid tribute to Simon Waugh, who has been working on a three-year contract at the NAS since February 2009, for overseeing the rapid expansion of apprenticeships, an increase of 50 per cent in one year to 440,000 starts. But the expansion of the NAS also drew criticism over the use of apprenticeship funds for low-quality training, with BIS coming under pressure from the Treasury.

"I have achieved all that I set out to do when I joined the NAS," Mr Waugh said. "After the considerable success of the past three years, I believe that this is a good time to move on. It was a very difficult 2011 for my family and I look forward to working part time and spending more time with them."

BIS said that chief operating officer David Way would lead the NAS until a successor was appointed.


- He joined American Express after leaving school and was appointed sales and marketing director for the UK 10 years later.

- In 1990, he was appointed commercial director of Lloyds TSB Insurance Services, then promoted to deputy managing director.

- He became managing director of SAGA Services in 1993.

- He worked for Centrica for seven years from 1997, mainly as group sales and marketing director.

- In 2005, he joined AWD Chase de Vere, first as UK chief executive, then as non-executive chairman.

- He was appointed chief executive of the National Apprenticeship Service in 2009.


- He began working for KPMG in Canada in 1982, moving to the UK six years later.

- He was appointed a partner in 1994, rising to the position of head of practice development at KPMG International.

- In 2005, he was seconded to the Treasury, with responsibility for financial management across Whitehall.

- He was appointed chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council in March 2009.

- He became the Skills Funding Agency's first chief executive in December 2009.

Photo: Geoff Russell by Andrew Fox

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