COMMONS

MPs report on reducing bureaucracy in further education

23 March 2012

The Commons Public Accounts Committee publishes its 76th Report of the Session on the basis of evidence from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Young People's Learning Alliance, and the Skills Funding Agency.

The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts, today said:

"There are too many funding organizations in further education, none of whom accepts ultimate responsibility for cutting the bureaucracy that colleges have to deal with.

We were frustrated that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which leads on policy for further education and which you would expect to accept overall responsibility, does not believe it should do that job.

This lack of clear accountability is at the root of many of the issues we highlight in this report. For instance, differences between funding bodies in the information they demand create an unnecessary burden on training providers and divert money away from students.

This is not to say that there are no initiatives to simplify the requirements placed on FE providers. Both the Department and the Department for Education have launched separate such initiatives. But they are not managed together as a single programme with a clear and consistent goal against which progress can be measured. Indeed, the Department considers that such measurement is not even necessary.

Finally, moves by the Agencies to simplify funding systems and make them outcome-based must not be allowed to weaken safeguards over the proper use of public money."



Margaret Hodge was speaking as the Committee published its 76th Report of this Session which, on the basis of evidence from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the Skills Funding Agency and the Young People’s Learning Agency, examined the approach of those bodies  to reducing bureaucracy in further education.

Further education is delivered by over 1,000 different providers, mainly further education colleges or independent training businesses. They offer a wide range of education and training, which is funded through different government bodies. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (the Department) and the Skills Funding Agency (the Agency) provide funding for further education students aged 19-plus. The Department for Education and the Young People’s Learning Agency fund further education for 16-to-18-year-olds. These two departments provided £7.7 billion in funding to the sector during the 2010/11 academic year. Further education providers also deliver training for people in prisons, unemployed people and some offer higher education as well.

The various government bodies that interact with the sector have different funding, qualification and assurance systems. Differences in the information required and collected create an unnecessary burden for training providers and divert money away from learners. To provide value for money, the systems need to be appropriate, efficient, avoid unnecessary duplication, and balance the protections they provide for public money with the costs of the bureaucracy they impose.

No one body is currently accountable for reducing bureaucracy in the further education sector. Instead, the two Departments and the two funding agencies maintain separate responsibilities based on their funding streams. The Department has a stated policy objective of reducing bureaucracy imposed on further education providers but despite this, the Department’s Accounting Officer would not accept overall responsibility for bringing together efforts to reduce bureaucracy in the sector. This failure leads to a poor value and uncoordinated approach, particularly in the case of data requirements.
Both the Department and the Department for Education, and their funding agencies, have launched separate initiatives designed to simplify the requirements they place on providers. However, the Department does not manage the simplification as a programme with a clear and consistent goal.

While the Department has required the Agency to reduce its own administrative costs by 33%, neither the Department nor the Agency has a rational view on the amount by which they would like to reduce bureaucracy in providers. Current attempts to quantify the burden on colleges will not provide a complete enough picture and the Department and the Agency do not accept that measurement of progress is necessary.
 
The Skills Funding Agency and the Young People’s Learning Agency are confident that the changes they intend to make in simplifying their funding systems will not put public money at greater risk. But the Department and the Agencies need to demonstrate that, in devolving control and simplifying procedures, their safeguards over the proper use of public money have not been weakened.

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