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Councils vow to keep control of funding

Charles Clarke's attack on 'drifting' boroughs looks set to add to anger over direct funding plan, report William Stewart and Emily Clark.

TOWN hall education chiefs are expected to oppose unanimously any move to "nationalise" school funding in an unprecedented vote today.

As the dispute with the Government escalates, cross-party support will be given to a call to preserve the local cash distribution system and give education authorities greater flexibility at the Local Government Association's education conference in Manchester.

The motion is the first the association has debated on any subject since its formation in 1997. It reflects LEAs' anger at the Department for Education and Skills' attempts to blame them for the crisis, and at suggestions that it may bypass them and fund schools directly from Whitehall.

Yesterday Charles Clarke, Education Secretary, was expected to increase tensions at the conference by telling LEAs their job was not to dictate but to facilitate. He was to accuse them of "drifting around in a sea of uncertainty" and announce that he wanted a 10-point "delivery" deal with every authority.

Mr Clarke was also expected to announce plans, revealed by The TES two weeks ago, to set a guaranteed minimum funding rise for every school in the country.

Graham Lane, LGA education chair, called for LEAs to be given more rather than less power over funding. Councils should be able to set three-year "indicative" budgets for schools and have a clear role in helping them manage costs.

The crisis over funding has intensified as the prospect of teacher redundancies increased - a TES survey of LEAs last week suggested some 1,100 jobs could go. This week it emerged that the Audit Commission will mount its own investigation into the crisis.

Doug McAvoy, National Union of Teachers general secretary, warned of an unacceptable loss of teaching posts after obtaining replies to a DfES funding survey from 50 LEAs.

More than 600 jobs are to go in nearly 40 authorities, although 263 were due to falling pupil numbers. But Eamonn O'Kane, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said that his own survey of all 150 English education authorities suggested that here would be only 237 teacher redundancies owing to funding shortfalls.

The DfES is also facing the prospect of possible court action from a group of London LEAs that are losing millions of pounds a year because of an anomaly over teachers' pay. Newham council is taking legal advice because it is funded as an outer London borough but has to pay inner London salaries to its teachers, costing an extra pound;4.5 million a year.

The boroughs of Merton, Haringey, Ealing, Barking and Brent face the same problem and are being approached to see if they want to take joint action.

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