The future of the Skills Funding Agency (SFA) is once again in question, with a leaked Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) memo suggesting it plans to more than halve the number of its partner organisations by 2020.
Details of the leaked document were revealed in the Guardian, and include proposals to reduce the number of its partner organisations — of which the SFA is one – to 20, cut operating costs by 30 to 40 per cent and consolidate the “BIS family” from around 80 sites into seven or eight “centres of excellence”.
The proposals are based on recommendations from consultancy firm McKinsey, after Business Secretary Sajid Javid reportedly called them in to carry out an “efficiency and effectiveness review” of BIS in late July.
According to the Guardian article, by James Wilsdon, professor of science and democracy in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, BIS staff are now being consulted on the proposals, with a detailed implementation plan expected to follow in January.
Mr Wilsdon writes: “The case for radical change is set out in stark terms. Despite ‘huge strides in the last five years’, BIS is ‘too complex’, with ‘45 partner organisations and 80+ locations’, such that ‘those who deal with us find us hard to understand and navigate’.
“BIS ‘currently costs too much to run’, and its users ‘need a better service’ with ‘faster and more efficient access to advice and funding’.”
It’s not the first time that doubts have been raised over the future of the SFA. In 2012 a report by Lord Heseltine, one time deputy prime minister, questioned the role of the SFA and called for apprenticeship and post-19 education funding to be devolved to local areas, via a single funding pot.
Further questions were raised in November, when Peter Lauener was appointed chief executive of the SFA in addition to his existing role heading up the Education Funding Agency. Rumours of a planned merger of the two bodies were later met with denial by the government and by Mr Lauener himself.
A BIS spokesperson said it did not comment on leaks.