Increasing the education budget to more than £55 billion would be the Liberal Democrats’ “first red line” in any coalition deal after the general election, the party’s leader Nick Clegg has said.
Speaking on his election battle bus today, Mr Clegg said he would not enter a coalition based on the current plans of either Labour or the Conservatives, and would demand higher spending on education for two- to 19-year-olds.
The Liberal Democrats’ policy would mean spending £5 billion a year more than the Tories, or £2.5 billion a year more than Labour, by the end of the Parliament.
“We will not enter a coalition which is based on those Labour and Conservative cuts for education," Mr Clegg said. “That is a first major red line for us and that we won't enter into any governing arrangement that does not meet that funding test for support for nurseries, schools and colleges, from cradle to college.”
The Lib Dems have already announced their plans to increase the 2-19 education budget in England – which covers nurseries, schools and colleges – to keep pace with both inflation and the estimated 460,000 extra children entering the system over the next five years.
The policy would entail a budget increase from £49.2 billion now to £55.3 billion by 2020. Funding would be protected in real terms until 2017-18 and then increased above inflation in line with economic growth in the final two years of the Parliament.
“It is indeed a deal-breaker,” Mr Clegg said. “If Labour and the Conservatives insist on imposing the billions of pounds of cuts that they both in different ways want to impose on nurseries, schools and colleges, the Liberal Democrats will not enter into coalition with either of them, full stop.”
The announcement was a break from Mr Clegg’s previous refusal to use the term “red line”. He said that as the election outcome now seemed “increasingly uncertain”, he wanted to be “increasingly clear and certain and categorical with people about what the Liberal Democrats will do after May 7 come hell or high water.”