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College building programme boss takes fall for £3bn funding shortfall

Learning and Skills Council chief executive Mark Haysom has today resigned over the body’s imploding college building programme.

Haysom said he was pre-empting the findings of a Government-commissioned report into the programme’s £3bn funding shortfall being carried out by former Audit Commission chief executive Sir Andrew Foster.

The Government admitted earlier this month that 71 schemes were in limbo despite having approval in principle from the Learning Skills Council. Just eight colleges had been given the go ahead for construction.

The debacle prompted consultant Atkins to issue an unprecedented warning over the security of jobs in the engineering and design sector.

In a statement issued last Thursday, Atkins hit out at delays. “The stalled Learning and Skills Council (LSC) programme was designed to refurbish further education establishments but many colleges are now facing bankruptcy because of funding issues,” it said. “The delays are now presenting a serious potential problem for companies working on the projects.”

Paul Dollin, managing director of Atkins’ design and engineering business, said: “At peak we would expect to have around 250 staff employed on LSC projects with the contracts we have won and any threat to that work could have an obvious impact.”

Today Haysom said he remained proud of the college re-building programme. “Thanks to the investments we have made on behalf of the Government we have been able to change the face of further education in towns and cities across England.

“It is then with huge regret that I have reached the conclusion that, because of the well-publicised difficulties with that programme, I should now announce that I am stepping down from my role as chief executive.”

He added: “Sir Andrew Foster has been asked to prepare a report on the college capital programme. I don’t need to wait for that report to be published before making my decision because it will, I’m sure, confirm what I now know – that there have been failures in the way that the LSC has managed the programme.

“No matter where those mistakes have been made, and no matter how many people have been involved in the capital programme, as the chief executive of the LSC I am, of course, finally accountable. That is why I have made my decision to step down at this time.”

Responding to Haysom’s resignation, shadow secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills David Willetts laid the blame on government.

“The LSC minutes for last year, published after pressure from us, show officials were informed of the capital crisis six months ago. They attended key meetings and ministers were kept informed.

“So far, the Government has made absolutely no practical proposals to tackle the underlying problems.”

Liberal Democrat Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, Stephen Williams said:

“This programme has been poorly managed and it is right that Mr Haysom takes responsibility. However, the Government must not use his resignation as a way of ducking the blame for the part it played in this fiasco.

“It is ministers who raised expectations by announcing that capital projects would be brought forward. Colleges worked to meet these expectations and now face serious financial strains and uncertainty over whether the building programme will ever get going.

“The Government must act now to ensure that this important programme gets moving again.”

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