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Councils to give Pounds 1bn to schools

The most radical funding shake-up in a decade will force local authorities to delegate even more cash. Clare Dean reports

SCHOOLS are to get an extraPounds 1 billion in the most radical funding shake-up since local management was introduced a decade ago.

Councils will be forced to hand over the cash under ministerial moves to extend delegation and sweep away the differences in funding between grant-maintained and local authority schools.

Draft regulations will be published later this month but chief education officers have already been told that they must delegate around half of the money from next April.

A letter to them warns: "The secretary of state expects LEAs to use every endeavour to direct as much resource as possible into schools' delegated budgets by limiting central budgets."

And Estelle Morris, the schools standards minister, this week pledged to publish league tables of local authority spending and to curb unnecessary bureaucracy.

The cash is intended to cover building repairs and maintenance, staff costs, advisory and inspection services and special needs.

By April 2000, councils will be expected to hand over a further Pounds 161 million for central support ancillary services.

They will also have to delegate Pounds 3m for library and museum services to secondary schools by 2000 and to have earmarked the sums available to primary schools.

Councils will retain funding centrally for outdoor education services and a separate announcement is expected on music.

Schools will be able to request that money spent on insurance is delegated. They will also be able to run their own bank accounts, into which the whole budget is paid, and to take charge of payroll.

Local authorities will have to submit schemes to the Government setting out their proposed future financial relationships with their schools by February.

The changes were welcomed by David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers.

"It must be right that schools should be responsible for making decisions about how their budgets can be best used to support the delivery of the best possible service at the sharp end," he said.

John Fowler, assistant head of education at the Local Government Association, said: "It is an opportunity to define the roles of councils and schools but it might have pushed the boundaries too far in the direction of schools."

Unison, Britain's biggest trade union, attacked delegation of the Pounds 355m school meals budgets: "We believe that prices will rise, nutritional standards will fall and the number of young people opting for school meals will drop dramatically.

"Even at this late stage we will redouble our efforts to press for a change of heart by the Government."

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