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Councils warn of more cuts

Education authorities in London and the South-east fear that extra funds will not cover their costs. Jon Slater reports

Thirteen authorities in southern England will be forced to cut their education services despite extra money announced this week for councils, local government leaders have warned.

England's 150 education authorities will share an additional pound;300 million to help them meet the cost of the Government's guarantee that schools will receive a funding increase of 4 per cent per pupil.

The money, announced on Wednesday in the annual local government finance settlement, comes on top of the pound;120m announced last month by Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, to help schools with financial difficulties.

Overall, councils who have responsibility for education will receive an average increase in central government grant of 5.1 per cent in 20045. No council will get less than 3.5 per cent or more than 5.8 per cent.

Ministers argue that the extra money will allow authorities to pass money on to schools while protecting other services.

But the Local Government Association estimates that this leaves councils facing a funding shortfall of about pound;400m.

It says that with school spending effectively ring-fenced, authorities will be forced to make cuts in other areas - including the implementation of the children's Green Paper designed to help prevent child abuse.

Central education services such as support for children with special educational needs will be among the areas hit.

The LGA warns that 13 authorities will receive no increase in funding from central government above the guaranteed increase in school funding announced by Mr Clarke in October.

The 13 authorities that will have to pass on any increase in grant in full to schools, leaving no increase for other services, are: Wandsworth; Barnet; Bromley; Havering; Richmond; Milton Keynes; Poole; Rutland; Southend; Windsor amp; Maidenhead; East Sussex; West Sussex and Surrey.

Council leaders complain they will have limited room to increase council tax in order to protect services. Ministers have warned that they are prepared to use capping powers against councils planning tax increases of more than 10 per cent.

The Treasury estimates that council tax rises should increase by an average 7 per cent.

Nick Raynsford, local government minister, said: "This settlement will enable councils to deliver improved services at reasonable council tax levels."

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