Destiny of schools' windfall uncertain

5th December 1997 at 00:00
The Government has announced what councils can spend on education next year - including the Chancellor's Pounds 835 million bonus. Geraldine Hackett reports

Councils are likely to face problems making sure that the Chancellor's Pounds 835 million windfall for education is actually spent on schools.

Local councils are to be allowed to spend a total of Pounds 19.4 billion on education, according to figures released by the Government this week.

The Government says this is a rise of 5.7 per cent, but if inflation is taken into account, it comes down to slightly over 2 per cent.

Overall, councils are to be allowed to spend Pounds 48.2bn - an increase of less than 1 per cent over inflation. There is also to be a slight easing of spending constraints.

David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, is writing to council leaders urging them to ensure that the extra money, announced by Gordon Brown in July, is transferred to their education services and used to raise standards in schools.

Mr Blunkett said: "This Government works in partnership with local authorities, and our increase in education funding proves it. In return we expect local councillors up and down the country to play their part in helping our children, by using the extra funding to set local budgets which reflect our determination to raise standards in schools."

However, ministers have no power to determine which service councils spend their money on.

The Local Government Association believes councils will make every effort to spend more on education, but not all will be able to increase school budgets by around 5 per cent.

In some cases, councils may be forced to replenish reserves that had been depleted in the past to maintain services. Others may already be spending above the Government's guidelines on education and may have particular problems in areas such as social services or highways.

In addition, there may be competing claims from other branches of education such as the youth service or increases in the cost of home-school transport to take account of rising numbers of pupils in secondary schools.

There is also concern within local government that too much pressure from central Government on how the money is spent could become counter-productive.

However, Mr Blunkett does not appear likely to carry out a threat to write to school governors setting out how much more money they could expect, given the level of Government grant.

The Pounds 19.4bn total is only marginally more than local government expects to spend on education next year.

While the financial settlement is more generous than LEAs could have expected under the Conservatives, local government officials expect that spending is unlikely to be higher than last year.

Councils will be able to make a more accurate assessment of the level of next year's school budgets when ministers agree the pay award for teachers.

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