Public Accounts Committee accuses Learning and Skills Council of ‘recklessness’ in its management of the scheme

Delayed college schemes could be bundled together with Building Schools for the Future projects to get them off the ground, a government spending watchdog has suggested.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee into the further education college building programme said that “uncertainty about the future of the programme must be resolved as soon as possible”. Edward Leigh, the PAC chair, also branded the Learning and Skills Council’s management of the programme “reckless”.

The report, published today, said: “There may be scope to repackage some projects in future, for example by bundling them together with other colleges or with schools being redeveloped as part of the Building Schools for the Future programme.”

The comments will increase the pressure on a future government to put the troubled college building programme under the control of BSF delivery body Partnerships for Schools.

The programme ground to a halt in March when 144 college schemes were put on hold after the LSC over-committed its budget by more than 150%. Since then, just 13 colleges have been given the go-ahead to work up their proposals, leaving the rest in limbo.

One senior schools source said: “It would be bonkers for the scheme not to be combined with BSF at some stage.”

Edward Leigh said: “The Learning and Skills Council has been guilty of a very serious failure in its management of the programme to refurbish and rebuild further education college buildings around the country. The council behaved recklessly by approving too many projects and allowing colleges’ expectations of financial support to outstrip what it could afford by nearly £2.7bn. Some colleges are heavily committed to projects on which they have incurred costs. Some straight talking is needed from the council so that colleges in this position are aware of the difficult decisions they will have to take.”

Leigh added that the now-dissolved Department for Universities and Skills, which was overseeing the programme, had been at fault for not spotting that the programme had run into trouble. He said: “By early 2008, the council was no longer controlling the flow of projects which were becoming unaffordable. The department’s oversight of the council was remiss for it failed to recognize that this was going on.”