CONSERVATIVES HAVE promised to put students in the driving seat of further education and abolish the Learning and Skills Council if they come to power.
In a new report - which includes criticism of red tape which has drawn a robust response from the LSC - the Tories have said it is the people being trained, rather than institutions, which should determine how public money is spent.
The report - which can now be regarded as official Tory policy - was produced by John Redwood MP. It says more resources need to be spent on apprenticeships and quotes figures from the awarding body City and Guilds which suggest vocational workers are happier in their jobs than their shirt-sleeve-wearing counterparts.
It makes a direct attack on the effectiveness of current funding arrangements - with the Depart-ment for Education and Skills' resources channelled through the LSC.
"Britain is not at present equipped with a system of training that is likely either to address the problems identified by Lord Leitch or to contribute in the way it could and should to our productivity, our competitiveness and our social mobility," the report said.
"LSC money isn't going where one might think it would go" - citing the examples of activities Tories regard as a distraction.
These include pound;13.8 million on dance awards, pound;40m on discretionary support for students and pound;43m on area inspections. It goes on to mention the various sources of college funding, including those in Europe, saying, "The money comes through so bewildering an array of funding streams as to leave all involved gasping for breath."
The report's ammunition is reserved for the biggest source of funding, the LSC, which it says has a function which clashes with the DfES, partly because both organisations are expected to take a national view.
It said: "Evidence presented to us suggests that the LSC lacks a global mindset and insufficiently appreciates the future skills requirement of UK plc.
It says money should flow to colleges and other training organisations from the DfES through local authorities which would, in turn, be responsible for assessing demand from students.
A beefed-up careers service would be created so students could make their own decisions about the training they need for their chosen career. It would then be up to local authorities to ensure public money was spent on what prospective students are asking for.
The report said overall spending on FE, currently at pound;11m a year, should not be reduced.
Mark Haysom, the chief executive of the LSC, said: "I am puzzled by the recommendation in John Redwood's report on economic competitiveness that the LSC should be abolished.
"Compared to what went before, the LSC now saves the taxpayer more than Pounds 100m a year in administration and our running costs are a tiny fraction of the pound;10bn we invest each year for the Government in learning and skills.
"And under our stewardship the successes of the sector go from strength to strength - in fact, for a public body of our size, I challenge anyone to match our delivery record in meeting and exceeding our targets. I look forward to discussing my bemusement with David Willets, (Tory education spokesman) once he has had time to absorb the Redwood report."
The reforms would in some respects see further education coming full circle.
Colleges were local-authority funded until 1993, when Tory legislation led to them breaking away and to the creation of the Further Education Funding Council.