Tories pledge to cut bureaucracy

The Tories have set out their stall for the future of further education with a plan which promises to be as tough on red tape as it is on budgets.

A change of Government would see a cull of quangos and other public-funded bodies which would bring about a dramatic change in the landscape of post-16 education, they say.

Chris Grayling, the shadow further and higher education minister, outlined his ideas in an exclusive interview with FE Focus in advance of the party's policy paper, to be published in January.

The paper's release is being timed to come out after the Government's response to the Tomlinson report, also due next month, but the course is already set.

The Tories believe they can put more money into teaching through efficiency savings, without increasing total spending.

Mr Grayling said: "There will be some pretty radical ideas which I hope will create a lot of interest in the sector.

"We need to deconstruct the paraphernalia that surrounds skills planning.

There are an enormous number of different bodies, many with similar or overlapping functions and responsibilities. We need fewer agencies, with clearer, better-defined responsibilities.

"At the moment, colleges find themselves dealing with an immense list.

Development agencies, the Learning and Skills Council and the sector skills councils are just the beginning of it."

The reward for removing some of these layers of control, he says, will be more power for colleges, with fewer constraints from above, allowing them to concentrate more on the needs of their students.

He said: "The relationship that matters is the one between the provider and the customer.

"The sector needs to be responsive to local needs. Individual colleges have a better idea of what that takes than people at the centre.

"More of the money needs to go straight to the colleges, with an end to much of the ring-fencing that takes place at the moment.

"Colleges could then devote their resources and energy to meeting local needs rather than endless bidding for pots of money.

"Principals have told me of the frustration of wanting to set up courses which match a specific local demand, but finding that the funding and bureaucratic processes are so complex that it doesn't happen."

He was appointed to his post just over a year ago after the election of Michael Howard as party leader. Tim Collins became shadow education secretary.

Ironically, many of the bodies he referred to were set up after 1993 when colleges were freed from local authority control by the then Conservative government.

The policy document is expected to raise Mr Grayling's profile in FE after a period of political pre-occupation with top-up fees in universities.

He said: "New Labour only cares about universities. It has simply used it (FE) as a dumping ground, dropping responsibilities upon it without providing the resources to meet them. Colleges are working extremely hard to try to meet these demands, but are being pulled in all directions."

Mr Grayling, 42, a former BBC journalist, occupies the safe Conservative seat of Epsom and Ewell in Surrey. He was a college governor for 15 months.

The Government believes its own record on FE funding, which has been increased since it came to power, will be seen in sharp contrast to the Tory approach of freezing spending.

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