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Record spending on adult education

As Government pledges more money for lifelong learning, councils fight to stop the cash coming from school budgets

ADULT education spending will be increased by 9 per cent in the year 2002-3, the Government has announced.

The investment will bring the budget to a record pound;167 million, said lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks. The budget for 2000-1 is pound;153m.

A further pound;16m will be spent on improving adult education facilities.

"The big increase I am announcing shows the long-term commitment we are making to this work," Mr Wicks said.

Meanwhile, councils around the country have been fighting a rear-guard action to save schools budgets from being reduced to pay for changes in adult education.

They include County Durham, which feared it would have pound;1.2m trimmed from its education budget to fund the new Learning and Skills Council's adult education activities in the area.

The LSC takes over funding responsibility for adult and community education from LEAs in April. The Department for Education and Employment has been looking at how much each council has been allowed to spend on adult and community education, to help it work out how much funding should be transferred to the new council.

Many authorities spend substantially less than their allowance on adult education, diverting much of the cash to schools. Durham, which includes Prime Minister Tony Blair's constituency, spends just pound;60,000 in this area and feared its schools' spending would be drastically reduced once its adult education allowance was taken away.

It now hopes the DFEE will change its mind after last-minute negotiations.

The Government has set aside pound;52m to help selected LEAs cope with the consequences of funding changes, including those affecting adult education.

"We have heard from Durham and have adjusted our calculations accordingly," said a spokesman for the DFEE. He said figures would be "looke at again" where LEAs felt their adult education spending had been miscalculated.

"We faced a deduction of more than a million when we were in fact spending pound;60,000," said Keith Mitchell, education director for Durham. "We have now been told we will be getting this money.

"What concerns me is that, if the same thing happens with sixth forms, there is going to be a lot of confusion. I think that this shows we need more consultation involved before these things are carried out."

The Government has told Wiltshire that it will lose pound;750,000 in spending allowance, although it spends just pound;150,000 on adult education.

"They have taken the money, and that's it," said Bob Wolfson, the chief education officer, who says he is already resigned to the situation. "It will be the first call on our education budget. The attitude from the DFEE has been tough."

Similar fears arose in Sheffield, which includes Education Secretary David Blunkett's constituency, where the authority thought it was going to have its education budget reduced by pound;1.5m. It spends less than half a million on adult education. Unlike Wiltshire, it is in talks with the DFEE and says it is confident the anomaly will be resolved.

"We're a bit more confident than we were a week ago about this. We have been speaking to the Government and, the way things are going, I would be very surprised if this doesn't get sorted out," said the council's education spokesman.

"Of course it is possible some councils will argue that the allowance has been wrongly estimated by the Government," said Graham Lane, chair of education at the Local Government Association.

"But if councils have chosen to under-spend on adult education and use the money for other things, that's different.

"They are entitled to spend the money how they like. But they shouldn't be rewarded for this by only losing what they actually spent on adult education."

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