Councils have hit back after education minister Lord Agnew bet a bottle of champagne that he could identify waste in any school.
Representatives of local authorities today also warned the Commons Education Select Committee about increased pressure on SEND spending, and the impact of funding pressures on education standards.
The minister last week told the School and Academies Show: “I would challenge anyone here, if they want to have a wager with me, that I can’t find some waste in your schools. I will take you on.
"I will use the teams I’ve got at the DfE to win that wager. If I lose the wager, which is entirely possible, I promise to give you a bottle of champagne and a letter of commendation.”
Asked about the comments today, Paul Carter, of the County Councils Network, told MPs “the tank is running on empty”.
“Well, [schools] have delivered efficiencies," he told the committee, which is holding an inquiry into school and college funding.
Is cutting TAs a cost efficiency?
“When I spoke to the headteachers’ conference last week, I said, ‘You have had a tough time but nothing like as extreme as upper tier authorities across county councils, which have already taken a massive amount of stick and delivered extraordinary efficiencies.'
“Schools have had to do the same thing, and now the tank is running on empty.”
Yolande Burgess, strategy director at London Councils, raised concerns about what some people may count as an efficiency saving.
She said a London Councils survey last year showed that 47 per cent of secondary schools had reduced the breadth of their curriculum, 70 per cent of primaries had cut the number of teaching assistants, and 63 per cent of all schools had cut spending on learning resources.
She asked: “Is that a cost efficiency?”
Anntoinette Bramble, of the Local Government Association, said there was a place for efficiency savings, but warned, “Let’s not conflate that with ensuring that we have the right investment in schools."
She added: “If you have been a local authority or school that has taken that cost-efficiency journey, you are back to 'we need to resource our schools and run our schools and we need the appropriate money in the system to do that’.”
Committee chair Robert Halfon asked the three representatives whether they agreed that “the efficiency argument that the minister has put is not really apt, but not really possible given the efficiency savings that have already been made”.
They said they agreed.