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Swing expected to favour blues

Hung councils are key targets for the political rivals. Karen Thornton reports

THE parties are fighting to control a large number of hung councils in the local elections on June 7.

While education may not emerge as the key issue for most, for teachers working in the 34 counties and 11 unitaries education authorities to be polled, a change in political leadership could bring significant changes.

Pundits predict Labour will lose several councils, although Labour supporters claim doorstep support is stronger than the polls suggest.

The Conservatives are expected to make gains at the expense of Lib Dems in their traditional West Country heartland.

Nationally, around a third of all councils have no party in overall control. But of the 45 going to the polls next week, two in five are hung.

Last year, the Tories gained 600 local seats overall, and won more votes and seats than any other party. Peter Chalke, their education spokesman at the Local Government Association, says the party will build on by-election gains in his own authority - Wiltshire - to secure a stronger controlling position.

He believes the Tories may also win in Dorset and in Essex (where no party has overall control of either council), take Somerset from the Lib Dems and Northamptonshire frm Labour.

Schools will feel the difference under a Conservative education authority, he said. "We have more of a policy of delegating to schools and trusting schools. If we cannot give them enough money it is because the Government hasn't given us enough."

Wiltshire governors and headteachers have lobbied MPs as part of the F40 campaign in protest at the county's ranking as one of the lowest-funded authorities.

In another F40 authority, Derbyshire, Dave Wilcox insists the Labour vote there is holding up. He says that when you take into account funding coming to schools via the Standards Fund and initiatives such as class size reduction, the per pupil funding figures are much higher.

The Lib Dems are predicting Labour-controlled Bristol will become a hung council with the Lib Dems as the majority party. John Miller, acting chief executive of the Association of Liberal Democrat councillors also predicts Cambridgeshire and Cornwall, both hung, will become Conservative and Lib Dem respectively.

The big education issue for him, though, is not local authority funding but Labour's drive toward greater privatisation of public services, including education. "Where you live is going to matter more and more in respect of what kind of education you get," he said.

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