The Scottish Parliament's spending watchdog has taken a dim view of the performance of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, suggesting it may even be to blame for the financial plight of many colleges.
In an unexpectedly hard-hitting report issued yesterday (Thursday), the audit committee of MSPs expressed clear frustration at the council "dragging its feet" over previously undertakings.
In particular, the committee is "extremely disappointed" by the slow pace of work designed to match provision of further education with the needs of the Scottish economy. The committee considers that matching skills to jobs is fundamental in effectively delivering FE in accordance with ministerial priorities."
It is demanding that the funding council produces a timetable setting out when it intends to have "robust measures" in place to show whether the Executive's priorities are being met.
Brian Monteith, the committee's convener, said: "The committee considers that too many SFEFC initiatives are taking too long to come to fruition.
The council appears to be struggling to drive the performance agenda and ensure that ministerial priorities are being met."
MSPs expressed concern at the quality of performance information in general, particularly over unit costs in the colleges, and Mr Monteith called on the council to act "more purposefully". It gave an undertaking that it would do so following the audit committee's 2000 report on the council.
This year's report states: "Unless funding is transparently fair and equitable it will not be possible to identify effectively efficiency savings."
The committee goes so far as to express "overarching concerns" over what may be underlying flaws in the funding council's approach and the wide variation in the financial health of colleges - which may also be due to unacceptable variations in efficiency between colleges.
"Better unit costs measures would help to unravel this," the report states.