The Learning and Skills Council for England is a non-departmental public body, and one that is making headlines for the second year in a row. Last year’s overall winner of the Finance Director of the Year was the outgoing Learning and Skills Council’s FD Philip Lloyd.
The council, whose primary aim is to make the country better skilled and more competitive, was created under the Learning and Skills Act 2000 to modernise and simplify arrangements for the planning, funding and delivery of post-16 education and training.
It has a single clear goal – to improve the skills of England’s young people and adults to world-class standards. The formation involved merging 72 existing and disparate education-related agencies.
The LSC is responsible for planning and funding education and training for those aged over 16 in England, and has a £9m budget for 2004/05 with which to achieve its objectives.
Since its inception, the organisation has been criticised for its lack of clarity in communicating its purpose and for hiding behind bureaucracy and jargon.
The council, therefore, has identified the key element in its brief as -clarity’.
There was a clear requirement to communicate the ‘who, what, when, where, how and why’ of the organisation, as well as report on its progress against targets set by the government.
The LSC’s accounts have been prepared under an accounts direction issued by the Department for Education and Skills in July 2002, in accordance with schedule 1 of the LSC Act of 2000. This was combined with a financial memorandum between the then Department for Education and Employment and the LSC of December 2000.
The LSC’s financial statements provide a comprehensive account of the organisation’s expenditure. In general, the funding picture is encouraging. The government has been sufficiently convinced by the council’s work to commit record levels of new investment in learning and skills for those aged over 16.
The extra funding available under the government’s Success for All strategy will help the LSC improve quality and performance even more.
Budgets have increased faster than inflation, administration is being pared, and the speed of payments to colleges and training establishments is being increased. In fact, more than 100 well-managed colleges qualified for a new simpler audit over the last two years.
Increasing the efficiency of its own administration remains a priority for the council.
In its first two years of operation, the recurring costs of running the sector were reduced by more than 27% to £218m, and the budget has been subsequently frozen at that level for two years.
The Reshaping for Success programme has helped the council to perform its duties with greater efficiency, as well as more economically.
The high degree of freedom given to the 47 local LSCs is vital, both for their ability to respond to local needs and their own responsibility to the areas they serve.
The judges agreed that the council’s annual report brought its work to life and made it accessible. ‘It was good to see the organisation’s aims up the front,’ said one. ‘The indexing made it easy to navigate and the photos brought the report to life.’
The Learning and Skills Council’s annual report provides a comprehensive picture of an organisation on the cusp of change, driving through an essential and highly topical programme of reform.
The LSC has clearly taken to heart previous criticisms regarding lack of clarity.
The organisation is to be commended on its transparent efforts to improve the quality of its communication.
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