Independent review condemns Learning and Skills Council for ‘delay and confusion’

The cost of completing the government’s stalled further education college building programme could rise as high as £16bn, it has been revealed.

Sir Andrew Foster, who was appointed by the government in January to undertake a review of the troubled programme, published the estimate in his report on Wednesday.

His review condemned the management failings of the Learning and Skills Council, the body responsible for the programme, which has placed 144 schemes on hold after exceeding its £2.3bn budget by more than 150%.

Foster said: “A good policy has been compromised by the manner of its implementation. The programme was in crisis and confusion by the end of 2008.”

Foster’s report, and a separate investigation published by Building this week, reveal that LSC officials knew that there were difficulties with the volume of bids coming through the programme as early as February last year. These were not dealt with or picked up on at the LSC’s highest level, its national council.

Foster said: “There were warnings of overheating, but there was delay and confusion in addressing them.”

He referred to a meeting of the LSC last December, by which time the problems had finally been acknowledged. This put the cost of completing the outstanding 45% of the further education estate at £8-16bn.

He lay the blame for the problems largely at the door of the LSC, saying “overcommitment should have been detected and challenged sooner”.

Foster has recommended that a system of prioritising projects be put in place and that a panel of college principals should work with the government and LSC on ways to advance the programme.

The LSC has set up a project team with the Department for Innovation Universities and Skills to consider the recommendations.