Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Audit Scotland Report: Scotland’s Colleges 2016

Audit Scotland has published a report on the changes in the college sector and an attempt to assess the impact of the changes. The report repeats their call for the Scottish Government to make clear how and when they will report on progress made on the benefits they claimed would come from college mergers. Until the measures to be used are clear all we are left with to make judgement in the sector are accounting terms.
Even on purely financial terms we still have no official figures on the costs of harmonising staff terms and conditions. This lack of basic data does not help efforts to resolve the current pay dispute.

What do we know?

Total student numbers have decreased by 41% and part–time numbers have reduced by 48% and, as we predicted and others predicted most of the reductions are in numbers of women and people aged over 25. While there is an overall gender balance across FE there are significant differences across courses so there is no sign of an end to the gender segregation in the workforce which contributes to the gender pay gap.
The completion rate for students had been rising but dropped back to 64% last year. An indication that the 9% decrease in staff numbers following the mergers is having an impact on the support levels students get.
While Audit Scotland state that the “financial health” of the sector is relatively stable they raised concerns about the lack of long-term financial plans to meet the costs of national bargaining, estate maintenance and student funding. Though it appears to us the the plan to deal with national bargaining is to short change our members on pay.

The key recommendations are

The Scottish Government and the SFC should:

• specify how they will measure and publicly report progress in delivering all of the benefits that were expected from regionalisation and mergers, in line with our recommendation from last year, which was endorsed by the Public Audit Committee
• publish information on the costs and savings achieved through the merger process, in line with our recommendation from last year, which was endorsed by the Public Audit Committee
• work with colleges to determine the current condition of the college estate and prepare a plan to ensure that it is fit for purpose
• use the Scottish Government’s end-to-end review of the skills agencies in Scotland to re-examine, clarify and set out the role of the SFC, particularly in relation to college governance
• identify and implement a better approach to allocating depreciation budgets to colleges.

The SFC should:

• require colleges to report how they have spent depreciation cash funding in their accounts, including a breakdown of the spending
• explore with colleges a way to better assess demand for college courses across Scotland
• publish information about leaver destination at national, regional and college levels.
Colleges should:
• develop long-term (a minimum of five years) financial strategies. These should be underpinned by medium-term (between three and five years) financial plans that link to workforce plans and take account of significant financial pressures such as national collective bargaining, estate development and maintenance and student support funding
• implement a more systematic approach to workforce planning to ensure that they have the appropriate resources and skills to achieve their strategic goals
• make agendas, supporting papers and minutes (subject to confidentiality issues) for board and committee meetings publicly available within appropriate time frames.

Glasgow Colleges' Regional Board should:

• put in place the arrangements necessary to become fully operational.

The Scottish Government has started a process of much needed reform in the way our colleges are run. They now need to focus on the delivery. Passing a Bill is the start, not the end, of their involvement in a process of change.

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