New star chamber to slash red tape

16th May 2003 at 01:00
Policy police will cut out bureaucracy before it takes root. Ngaio Crequer reports.

A POWERFUL new group will scrutinise policy as it is made in order to eliminate red tape at birth.

The "bureaucracy review group", a joint creation of the Department for Education and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council, will act as a gatekeeper to keep bureaucracy at bay.

Sir George Sweeney, principal of Knowsley College, Merseyside, and further education's "red-tape tsar", announced the move at the first annual conference of the Association of Learning Providers in Birmingham yesterday.

Sir George, chairman of the LSC's bureaucracy task force, told FE Focus:

"This will be a very powerful group, with the power to challenge anything being proposed.

"Everyone will have to explain and justify what they are doing. That is an enormous power. That is the kind of power my governors have over me."

The proposal is the next stage in the battle by Sir George and the bureaucracy taskforce to reduce the burden of administration, which costs at least pound;250 million a year. The task force was originally set up after The TES and the Association of Colleges launched a campaign to cut red tape.

The gatekeeper group will have a high-profile chair, said Sir George, who will meet regularly with ministers. Group representatives will be drawn from across the post-16 sector, including colleges and work-based training bodies.

Sir George stresses that the group will be taken seriously and that this is not a case of the LSC policing itself. He said: "It will be independent and have its own programme of work. It will cover literally everything that the LSC is responsible for, and straddle the council and the DfES.

"It will not be passive. We are not talking about ticking boxes. It will be a champion of that philosophy of light-touch regulation. It will chart the relentless driving down of needless bureaucracy. People will be able to see it taking place."

Sir George, formerly a teacher of public administration, said the group would be an innovation in public life.

He added: "It has never been done anywhere else before. We want to create something better. When you give it such a role, such status and prominence, it cannot be ignored - that is inconceivable."

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, told the conference that the "star chamber-style" body would be a permanent champion of light-touch regulation. It would tackle existing policies and procedures as well as scrutinising new ones, before they were implemented.

Mr Clarke said: "I have made it clear to Sir George, the LSC and my officials that I am looking for radical, not incremental change and that I and my fellow ministers are prepared to be challenged, as well as to challenge on the implications."

The chair of the group and its membership will be announced later this month.

At the same time, the LSC intends to extend its light-touch audits to around 100 colleges, in a further move to reduce bureaucracy. The audits require less paperwork and preparation.

The purge against bureaucracy has already been extended to 1,700 work-based learning providers.

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