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Action zones beset by 'excessive' costs

THE Government has spent more than pound;1.1 million on setting up its education action zone programme - and the bill is certain to rise.

Official figures show the Department for Education and Employment spent pound;1 on administration for every pound;6.73 it handed out to zones in funding last year - and as The TES revealed two weeks ago, part of that grant is being clawed back in VAT by Customs and Excise officials.

National Union of Teachers general secretary Doug McAvoy said: "We've warned the Government that EAZs were being bogged down in administrative costs. This shows that excessive costs run through the system."

A written answer by school standards minister Estelle Morris to Liberal Democrat spokesman Phil Willis put central DFEE spending on action zones in the financial year 199899 at pound;1.143m.

That included pound;540,000 on central administration, pound;255,000 on conferences, pound;219,000 on external consultants and advisers and pound;125,000 on advertising. Another pound;1,200 was spent on hospitality, with pound;3,500 on direct mail.

In 199899 the first 25 zones were selected and set up and the second round was launched. A special hotline and advice service for applicants were set up and 10 regional conferences were held. The DFEE received 123 bids.

The second round will see another pound;1m handed out to 50 bidders to work up their proposals, on top of further ongoing administration costs to the department.

The first zones - 12 were launched in September, the rest will go ahead in January - received only pound;7.69m in grant in the same year.

The figures don't include how much it cost schools or local authorities to put together bids or the spending on zones own administration themselves. The NUT says some are holding back more than 20 per cent.

Mr Willis said: "Here is the Government spending pound;1 in seven purely to promote its own political objectives. How much better would it have been to plough that money into the school system directly?"

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