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Geoff Russell, outgoing chief executive of the Skills Funding Agency, considers the value of time and timeliness, as he bids farewell to the FE sector.

It’s time for me to bid farewell to FE.

I don’t plan to take up too much of your time; many of you might think that in the past three and a half years I have taken up far too much of it already. I can only claim, in my defence, that my intentions have always been good - as is my intention to be timely now in my departure.

I came to a sector that was already among the most responsive and flexible in the country, due, not to the swiftness of policy makers, or the adaptability of bureaucrats, but to the effort and agility of you, your staff and your organisations. But for a number of reasons that neither you nor I could control, it was your task and mine to make the sector - and the Agency itself - even more responsive; to do even more to enhance the impact that further education can have on the growth and success of the economy; and to do more with less, to ensure that the benefits for UK plc are generated with less outlay of taxpayers’ money.

And we have met these challenges successfully, while at the same time making ourselves more fit for purpose – and helping the sector to do the same – so we can together rise to the opportunities and manage the risks of 2012 and beyond. Providers and colleges across the country have responded to the challenge, raised their game, and are delivering even greater benefits to individuals, communities and businesses.

And as for the Agency, it is much leaner and lighter touch - yet hopefully more helpful.  We emerged from our restructuring as the streamlined organisation we’ve been promising: a more effective and efficient enabler in a world which more than ever recognises that skills are central to the economic growth and prosperity of the nation.

So we and the sector have made much progress - but of course there is much yet to do.  And to think that just three odd years ago I did not even know what LSC meant, let alone the meaning of such wonders as a ULN; a QCF; an ILR or an LLDD.   Needless to say, having almost mastered the language, and having undoubtedly come to just about understand and certainly admire the incredible things that FE does, I have realised it is time to move on and let others work with you to take things to the next level.

I have spent more than three years with the further education sector, astonished by your commitment and ability to meet the many demands of a range of agencies and bodies that set targets for you. I am pleased to say that it is a measure of the sector’s ability to demonstrate the value of competition that we are now in a different place. Our funding system will move to what will probably be the most market based public service in the country.  I think FE is fast becoming an icon for exactly how public service should be run.

But with freedom comes responsibility.

So my last message to you is that for the sector to have the money and the flexibility it deserves, it must visibly demonstrate how it adds value to customers, stakeholders and taxpayers.  The funding bodies used to have this role – but then we also used to tell you what to do.  In today’s world, the role of demonstrating why you should continue to receive public money is down to you. If you do not, then pressure will build to go back to the old ways and that would be in no one’s interest.

I want to personally thank you all – colleges, private sector providers; local authorities and voluntary organisations for all of your commitment, dedication and enthusiasm. I also owe a great deal to those of you who provided me encouragement, advice and constructive criticism.  And of course, I could not have survived without the good nature, support, dedication and professionalism of my colleagues in the Agency.  Finally, I must tell you that John Hayes was a real pleasure to work with and I admire very much his commitment to FE and his skills as a political guild master.

My time in this role has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding things I ever have done in my life. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I was given to have played a part in your world and I thank you for sharing it.

But as I said before its time to go - it always comes back to time. Something I will now hopefully have more of. As the poet Carl Sandbury said, “Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.” As an accountant by trade, I think like that saying.

And only time will tell how current events will play out for the sector as a whole, but overall I judge them to be favourable, especially for those who are innovative, bold - and of course timely.

Thank you FE colleagues. I wish you well.

Geoff Russell is succeeded by Kim Thorneywork, who has been appointed as the new interim Chief Executive of Skills Funding by BIS to lead the Skills Funding Agency through its next stage of development

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