The funding chief has told Holyrood's auditors that boards must hold their executives to account if they fail to rein in spending, reports Neil Munro.
COLLEGE boards of management will be expected to take a much more hard-headed approach to decisions by principals and other senior executives following the current inquiry into the quality of FE management.
This was indicated last week by John Sizer, chief executive of the Scottish Further Education Funding Council, when he gave evidence to MSPs on the Parliament's audit committee.
Pressed about the colleges' accumulating debt, Professor Sizer admitted that poor management could be a contributory factor. He commented: "We may have to change the management rather than the practices."
Professor Sizer said: "I must also ensure that boards of management understand their responsibilities in holding their executives to account. Executives must demonstrate to boards good reasons why their colleges are more expensive than others.
"If a college is more expensive, the executive must also say what action it is taking to address that fact. If it believes that it cannot take action, the board must be satisfied that that is the case. The boards are the first line of public accountability - they must ensure that the executive of a college delivers value for money."
College boards have repeatedly been accused by union leaders of rubber stamping decisions by college principals. But Professor Sizer told MSPs that the funding council was not a planning or management body. Its job is to ensure "that college managements understand what best practice is and can demonstrate that they are employing it.
"In that process, they can demonstrate to boards of management and to auditors that they have optimal staffing levels to deliver what they are required to deliver now, and plan for the future."
Professor Sizer conceded, however, that identifying best practice was no guarantee that all managers would be capable of delivering it. A crucial component of the management review would therefore be improving human resource management, management succession and management development.
Despite indifferent management, continuous cost-cutting and staffing cutbacks, the audit committee was told there was no evidence of any dilution in quality.
But Eddie Frizzell, head of the Scottish Executive's enterprise and lifelong learning department, promised a close eye would be kept on the quality of college education as well as its costs.
A "service level agreement" with HMI would allow the funding council to check on teaching and learning.