Finance key concern for commissioner reports

Finance key concern for commissioner reports

Finance problems figured prominently in the two latest college inspection reports from FE Commissioner Dr David Collins (pictured above left).

The reports by Dr Collins on Greenwich Community College and 11,000-learner Central Sussex College were both published on Monday (March 9), following visits in early January.

The commissioner was particularly critical of the South East London college, which had around 3,500 learners as of November, which Skills Minister Nick Boles, following his advice, placed into administered status.

Among the problems identified by Dr Collins, who was sent in to inspect the college after it was given an inadequate Ofsted grading in December, was a “somewhat different picture” to its previous estimate of a £3.5m bank balance at the end of 2014/15 — the prediction now stands at around £500k after a £3m “deficit”.

And the report of Ofsted monitoring visit carried out a few weeks after Dr Collins’ was there highlighted little in the way of progress at the college, which currently has a £5.9m adult skills budget.

Andrew Murdock, the college’s finance director and vice principal, told FE Week: “The commissioner raises a number of issues which have been acted on.

“The college has taken immediate steps to address the projected deficit by cutting all unnecessary expenditure and making plans to reduce its long term cost base. This includes a review of staff costs and utilisation.”

Dr Collins also said that “a financial recovery plan is needed to address the college’s financial weaknesses, including issues of overstaffing and inefficient resource utilisation”. He added that a structure and prospects appraisal should be carried out “as soon as possible to determine the best way of providing high quality education and training for the learners and employers of the area” and called for “weaknesses at board level” to be addressed.

Richard Bourne OBE, chair of the college corporation, said: “We look forward to participating in the structure and prospects appraisal process. The board is aware of our role to ensure the community of South East London is well served with high quality FE in the future.”

Dr Collins was more positive about the Ofsted grade three-rated Central Sussex College, which he inspected after it was assessed as inadequate for financial health by the Skills Funding Agency in February last year.

He praised the “well balanced” governing board which has “changed significantly over the past two years” and said: “The senior management team has been completely revised following the appointment of a new principal [Sarah Wright, pictured above right] in 2013.

“The incoming principal inherited a number of major problems including a debt representing more than 100 per cent of turnover and unsatisfactory internal auditing arrangements.”

But Dr Collins added: “The new board and management team are performing well and should be supported in what is a major turnaround situation.”

However, he recommended that the audit committee at the college, which currently has a £4.5m adult skills budget, needed strengthening and “ways of reducing the college’s level of debt to manageable levels should be explored as a matter of urgency”.

Dr Collins added the senior management team needed someone with “overall college-wide responsibility for quality improvement and curriculum development”.

Ms Wright said: “We are pleased to note their published recommendation that the senior team and board of corporation are performing well and should be supported in what is a major turnaround from an inherited poor position.

“The college is working to ensure speedy progress against all recommendations.”