Learning council slated as shambles

5th January 2001 at 00:00
The proposed structure for the new body to control the multi-million-pound sector for post-16 learning and training is a shambles, according to documents obtained by FE Focus.

The Learning and Skills Council, with 47 local "arms", formally comes into being in April, replacing the Further Education Funding Council and the training and enterprise councils. It is a huge operation with a pound;6 billion budget for seven million learners.

But the documents show that only months before it takes on its huge government-appointed task of transforming learning for the nation, it still needs to clarify how it will manage the task and decide how many staff it wants or needs, and in which areas.

Crucially, it still has to work out exactly how it is to protect the public purse and ensure colleges remain solvent.

Plans for the new structure omit whole categories of support and administrative staff, leaving a question mark over whether senior managers will be able to perform effectively.

Letters went out in December to FEFC staff who are likely to be found a place in the new LSC structure, subject to consultation, although the FEFC had attempted to delay notification until January. David Melville, chief executive of the FEFC, wrote to his LSC counterpart John Harwood, saying "concerns can be properly and promptly dealt with" if staff were notified in the new year.

Concerns over the solvency of the sector and individual colleges proved to be one of the biggest worries expressed in a consultation document issued within the FEFC by its Coventry-based education and institutions directorate.

Mr Melville's letter expressed his regional fiance directors' extreme concerns regarding the neglect of the need to assure the financial solvency of the sector in general and individual institutions in particular.

Another concern relates to safeguarding money spent on property. Property-related capital expenditure is due to increase from pound;65m to pound;128m per annum for mainstream colleges.

Three FEFC regional support officers approve capital grant claims, with the support of three administrative officers. These posts seem not to be reflected in the new structure but, says the education and institutions directorate, "it is inconceivable that these functions could be administered alone simply by one post-holder".

The LSC has made no secret of the fact that it feels it has had little time to prepare. But the FEFC has warned that uncertainty could lead to large numbers of its staff and the TEC colleagues taking alternative employment before the new council has had the chance to keep them on board.

The LSC is also running out of time to deal with the potentially complicated processes of meeting its requirements under TUPE - the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations, especially where staff are in dispute over new contracts of employment.

A spokesperson for the LSC said the proposed structure is an "illustrative" model and the points raised by Mr Melville and his staff will be addressed in the more detailed structure plan due to be completed this year.

"John has written to David pointing out that the structure plan is not final," she said, "and we see it as flexible and something which will take account of the transfer rights of staff."

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