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Lib-Dems press for maximum autonomy

The Liberal Democrats, who pioneered local management in Cambridgeshire, now want every school to be given 100 per cent delegation of its potential budget, provided the head and governing body want it.

Paddy Ashdown, the party's leader, said he was looking for maximum freedom and autonomy for all schools.

While the party's policy is to return grant-maintained schools to local authority control within a "light-touch" strategic planning framework, it wants their financial flexibility extended to all schools.

And said Mr Ashdown: "I would like to see 100 per cent delegation but it would be silly to impose it on schools that were not ready for it. I want to see how far we can practically go with this."

He added: "When Government reforms put the purse-strings in the hands of centrally-appointed quangos and the power to close schools in the hands of the Secretary of State, the rhetoric of devolved power is a complete fraud. "

The Liberal Democrats believe the LEA should have two primary functions - admissions and responsibility for fair funding. And while they want maintained schools to have the financial flexibility of the GM sector, that would not extend to disposal of assets.

Mr Ashdown insists that the proceeds of sale of assets should go to the local council.

The Government is consulting on a proposal from John Major that opted-out schools retain all instead of half the proceeds as at present.

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