A plan by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills to reduce complexity and administrative burdens in the further education and skills sector, despite improving some processes, has had only limited impact on providers’ costs, according to a report by the National Audit Office.
Education providers receive around £7 billion of funding each year, mainly through the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, the Department for Education and the Department for Work & Pensions. This supports around 4.2 million learners. Funding is complex, because different bodies fund different types of learner.
In 2012, in the light of reports by the National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills developed a plan to simplify the administrative burden on the sector. The National Audit Office had estimated that the cost to the sector of complying with funding, qualifications and assurance requirements could be around £250 million to £300 million a year and that substantial savings could be made by reducing bureaucracy. In today’s report, the National Audit Office estimates that changes subsequently overseen by the Department have produced quantifiable savings of only around £4 million a year.
Today’s report finds that the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills has not done enough to streamline funding and assurance arrangements. Much of the cost to providers stems from having multiple funding routes. The two main funding bodies, the Skills Funding Agency and the Education Funding Agency, apply different funding principles, potentially to learners on the same course.
The Department for Business, Innovation & Skills does not know the overall cost to providers of dealing with funding and assurance requirements, and therefore cannot say whether compliance costs are rising or falling. The Department has also done little to estimate the likely costs of complying with forthcoming changes, which may make funding and accountability arrangements more complex.
Education providers acknowledge that there have been some positive steps to streamline processes, but most providers felt that the overall administrative burden was either worse than, or no different from, that experienced before the Simplification Plan.