Local authorities are already warning of dire financial straits next year. Clare Dean reports
Ministers face a Pounds 1 billion demand from local authorities for cash help to ensure education spending avoids further cuts next year.
Council leaders estimate they will need the extra money for education to stave off crises which have been avoided this year. They are already spending Pounds 668 million above the Government estimate of what needs to be spent on education this year.
Analysis of budgets by the Association of County Councils and Association of Metropolitan Authorities is now understood to show that authorities need to spend an extra Pounds 535m next year - Pounds 317m just to stand still.
David Whitbread, the ACC's education officer, said: "Proper investment in schools, maintenance of buildings and getting class sizes down is where education should be focused. A White Paper about selection and changing who is responsible for money rather than delivering more money is simply a distraction."
A joint paper to ministers from the local authority associations is understood to show that councils need to increase education spending to Pounds 19bn next year, before inflation. LEAs have budgeted to spend Pounds 18.4bn on education in the current year. The Government estimates they should be spending Pounds 17.8bn.
Education has this year been protected from the worst effects of cuts, with other services bearing the brunt. Local authorities have also tended to set budgets at the limit allowed by the Government before it steps in to cap spending.
"Gillian Shephard won an increase for education but, if she doesn't achieve the same for 1997-98, she will simply undo all that has been achieved this year," said Mr Whitbread.
Local authority officials and advisers believe Pounds 131m will have to be found to cover an increase of 54,000 pupils from September.
For services just to stand still, they will also have to spend Pounds 67 million on the code of practice for special needs, Pounds 13m on seat-belt regulations for school transport, Pounds 43m on administering nursery vouchers, Pounds 75m on teachers' pay and Pounds 33m on pensions.
The stand-still budget for education would require a rise of Pounds 317m, or 1.7 per cent, before inflation.
Current government spending plans, however, hint at an increase of around only 1.2 per cent for local authority services next year.
It is understood that, if local authorities were to cut class sizes, increase nursery provision, improve safety and security in schools and provide more money for books and equipment, spending would have to increase by Pounds 535m, or 2.9 per cent, before inflation.
Ministers will now almost certainly be told that a 1.2 per cent increase for education spending will not cover pay and price inflation let alone the spending needs arising from growing pupil numbers and legislation requirements.
They will be warned that, unless government spending plans are amended to give schools headroom next year, cuts that have been avoided this year will have to be implemented. Campaigns to increase school spending are already in place and pressure on ministers will intensify as the next general election draws nearer.