[Also on LinkedIn. Header image added 3/10/2015. Small edits madd 4/10/2015.]
Until 2002 I was employed in The Sheffield College. For the last seven years I have been a governor there. The college is a big urban FE college spread across four main sites, with a turnover of over £50m.
In 2000 I was a bit involved in The Sheffield Review, after The Sheffield College was put into Special Measures by the FEFC and the then Education Secretary, David Blunkett. Two Governors were "imposed" (Bob Fryer and FEFC's Dr Terry Melia) and George (now Sir George) Sweeney was parachuted in as Principal.
Here is a link to the executive summary of The Sheffield Review: http://dera.ioe.ac.uk/9912/. (I have a hard copy of the full review, but there seem not to be any publicly available digital versions.)
One very striking aspect of the Sheffield Review's method, which seems to differ from what is currently envisaged for ABRs, was that the FEFC's Terry Melia was very hot indeed on working out what the need in Sheffield was, and only then moving on to what provision was required to meet the need.
Of course the funding situation then was not as it is now, and is expected to be even worse after November's Comprehensive Spending Review. So funding will be insufficient to meet needs. And working out need in a LEP area such as Greater Manchester, or Sheffield City Region is a bigger job than "only" in one big local authority area. Nevertheless, ABRs ought, for moral as well as practical reasons, have that baseline assessment of numbers/need at an early stage.
From what I can make out, having attended the introductory meeting for college governors about Area Based Reviews, and having kept my eyes and ears open, it seems that ABRs will look at what there is on the ground by way of supply, and then move on to considering how that supply might be better and/or more cheaply provided.
The gap between supply and need would thus never be analysed.
This flaw in the ABR process (it is not the only one...) should be fixed..