11. Streamline the process for colleges to apply for restructuring funds

Recommendation 11

HM Treasury and DfE need to streamline the process for colleges to apply for restructuring funds so that area review recommendations can be implemented quickly at less expense in terms of professional fees.

The national programme of post-16 area reviews started in September 2015 and will run until summer 2017. The Government has scheduled a programme of 37 reviews and has finished 13 of them.  In the period since area reviews started, there have been 12 college mergers though many of these were planned before reviews started. There are likely to be between 20 and 40 more mergers in the next two years which represents a considerable restructuring of the sector. Several sixth form colleges will convert to become 16 to 19 academies. Other colleges are taking the chance to refresh their strategy, for example by developing shared services or joint apprenticeship companies.

The process of restructuring colleges is proving more complicated than it ought to be because of the regulatory issues that have been known about for some time. Colleges have found it takes more time than expected to satisfy their banks, resolve pension issues or to complete due diligence and consultation. Applications to the Restructuring Fund will take more time and money because these involve several new documents and forecasts and there are several layers of sign-off. In these circumstances, there is a risk that colleges are spending six figure sums on professional advisors which a few may end up writing off. Government has an interest in helping colleges implement area review recommendations and should therefore tackle these obstacles by simplifying the Restructuring Fund process.