COLLEGES hit by financial and management scandals in the 1990s should be allowed to police themselves via a Law Society-style standards watchdog, a report will state today.
Further education and sixth-form college principals should show government ministers they can be trusted to "order our own affairs", said Sir George Sweeny, chairman of the sector's Bureaucracy Task Force.
The move comes after a number of colleges, including Halton College, in Widnes, were hit by allegations of mismanagement, fraud and nepotism in recent years.
In 1999, Halton College had to shed 97 staff after wrongly claiming £14m of taxpayers' money. The Commons Public Accounts Committee later expressed "deep concern" about the use of the money by former principal Martin Jenkins and his deputy Jenny Dolphin.
Mr Jenkins, who was the highest-paid college principal in the country with a £105,000 salary, and Mrs Dolphin were suspended on full pay while an investigation took place into the mismanagement of funds at the Halton-based college, which left it with debts of more than £6m. They both eventually resigned on the grounds of ill health.
Further Education minister Alan Johnson has indicated support for the idea outlined in the report, saying he wanted proposals "on how we can make self-regulation a reality".
Following a near-18 month review of red tape in the FE sector, Sir George said it was time for the Association of Colleges, representing principals, and the Association of Learning Providers to work together on self-regulation.
At the moment, colleges are governed by legislation which is the responsibility of ministers and the Learning and Skills Council to enforce.
Mr Johnson said: "We should aspire to greater trust and self-regulation in further education and training."
AoC chief executive John Brennan said colleges would welcome self-regulation.
"I think they will seize it with alacrity, if they think it really does mean a reduction in the bureaucracy burden."
The problems of the 1990s had come about because the FE sector had been deregulated and "left to get on with the job", he said.