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Further education 'reliant' on councils

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The multibillion-pound Learning and Skills Council (LSC) funding fiasco will leave further education colleges more reliant than ever on local authority help to get their projects off the ground, a sector leader has warned.

John Freeman, director of the Local Government Association’s REACT programme, said the Treasury’s £300m per year commitment to deal with the LSC’s massively over-budget capital programme over the next two years would still leave a lot of colleges “disappointed”.

Mr Freeman said he expected future college capital programmes to be smaller in scale and to involve a greater degree of joint-funding and council input.

His comments came after the LSC’s former chief executive Mark Haysom told the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills select committee that he was “never aware” of a vital report circulated at the quango that warned of possible problems with its capital programme.

A recent report on the fiasco by former Audit Commission chairman Sir Andrew Foster found 253 college improvement projects were either underway or had been approved as of March, with more than 100 others in the pipeline at a projected cost over-run of more than £2bn.

Mr Freeman, whose REACT team is helping councils deal with next year’s transfer of 14-19 education commissioning from the LSC, said he expected the government funding to favour around 60 of the schemes currently in limbo that could most rapidly be commenced, with the first tranche to be announced early next month.

He said that the schemes that did not benefit from the Treasury’s £600m package would probably need to be rethought and scaled down – with the co-location of council services one potential way to link up funding schemes.

“I think colleges are going to have to work with councils and join up programmes, where for example we can join up Building Schools for the Future and college projects,” he said

“Councils will, of course, be part of the commissioning process, and I’m sure that councils will want to work with colleges so that things like town-centre regeneration and economic development prosper.”

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