Signs of survival for the Skills Funding Agency

Business Secretary Vince Cable has rejected proposals that would call time on the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

This comes despite the former Tory deputy Prime Minister, Lord Heseltine, recommending the agencies responsibilities should be devolved to regions through local enterprise partnerships.

In a question and answer session at the Association of Colleges (AoC) annual conference Dr Cable said he was happy with current funding arrangements for colleges and that some of Lord Heseltine’s proposals would lead to unnecessary complications.

“What we don’t want to do in a sector, where there’s sensible college funding, is to create another tier of bureaucracy. To create a model for transferring money en masse is simply not going to happen,” Dr Cable said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) said it was still looking at Lord Heseltine’s evidence and would respond shortly. “There are a number of far-reaching recommendations regarding the UK’s ability to compete in Lord Heseltine’s independent report,” a spokesperson said.

“These are Lord Heseltine’s views, and the government now needs time to consider these recommendations and hear the views of business and other stakeholders.”

BIS decline to comment on the future of the SFA.

We’ve already had to adapt so many times and it creates a phenomenal amount of extra work.”

Julian Gravatt, the AoC’s assistant chief executive, said it was good to see ministerial support for the SFA funding model.

“A shift to funding through local authorities, or LEPs, as set out by Lord Heseltine, would add extra complication to an already intricate funding system,” he said.

“We are not convinced that LEPs would be capable of taking on an enhanced role, which if instigated, would no doubt require a costly re-organisation at a time when budgets for further education and skills are already being cut.”

Eileen Cavalier, an associate member of the parliamentary group for skills and employment, and chief executive of the London College of Beauty Therapy, said the SFA should remain and branded Lord Heseltine’s proposals “totally impractical”.

“In theory Lord Heseltine’s recommendations sound good, but in practice they wouldn’t work. I don’t see how local enterprise partnerships would be able to cope with the volume of that administration, with the wide range of providers involved,” she said.

“It would massively complicate things for the provider. We deliver nationally on some programmes, if funding was split up regionally, how would it work from a provider’s point of view?

“In my time, we’ve gone from the Further Education Funding Council, replaced by the Learning and Skills Council in 2001, which became the Young People’s Learning Agency, and now it’s the Education Funding Agency and SFA. We’ve already had to adapt so many times and it creates a phenomenal amount of extra work.”

More light may be shed on the future of the agency next Wednesday when Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, sets out the government’s budget plans in his autumn statement.