SFA lost 1,000 staff in just six years

The Skills Funding Agency shed over 1,000 staff when responsible for apprenticeship providers and college financial oversight, before being brought into the Department for Education (DfE), new analysis by FE Week shows.

But the 60 per cent reduction in staffing resource was not matched by similar cuts to the number of providers, contracts managed, nor overall funding being allocated (see table).

On a per employee basis, the amount of funding to oversee grew from £2.5 million in 2011 to more than £6 million by 2017. This figure is likely to have risen further in recent years, with further growth to the apprenticeship budget along with many more providers given access to the funds.

The level of staffing resources at the agency could form an important feature in the delayed Dame Ney report.

Ney was commissioned by ministers in August last year “to carry out an independent review of how the government monitors colleges’ finances and financial management”.

At the time, the DfE said the terms of reference “in light of the financial difficulties at Hadlow and West Kent & Ashford Colleges” was to “review the way government monitored and exercised its oversight of those colleges’ finances and financial management, and their effectiveness in practice, including the work of the ESFA and the FE Commissioner’s team; and to recommend changes that would reduce the risk of such problems recurring, taking account of colleges’ independence and the need to minimise regulatory burden”.

When shown the SFA staffing analysis, the DfE was unwilling to provide a statement, but did say it is very difficult to compare these two (SFA and ESFA) systems as there has been considerable change in the organisation in the last ten years.

They pointed to a move to do more things digitally, which, they said, has made staff ratios versus monetary value more difficult to analyse.