Little comfort from the Chancellor

28th November 1997 at 00:00
The Chancellor's seminar to MPs offers little comfort to those looking for greater commitment by the Government to education. The Labour back benches have been most concerned at present about the effects of financial stringency on the benefits system, but the likelihood is for dissatisfaction to spread. Probably for a year teachers will be mollified by the fact that the Government is not Tory. They may come to resent that it is conservative.

Concern about standards in school and the competence of teachers will not lose Labour the friends it had on May 1. But demands for higher standards unaccompanied by the investment which teachers believe is necessary to achieve the Government's goals will create tensions. Gordon Brown has signalled that there will be no early relaxation of the restrictions on spending which he announced before the election and which have hamstrung ministers in the spending departments.

His calculation is political as much as economic. Giving away too much to needy causes, especially in the health and education service, would bring accusations of profligacy from the quarters which gave Labour the benefit of doubt despite the record of its previous administrations. Mr Brown dare not be blown off course in the manner of Jim Callaghan and Denis Healey. That would lead to an ebbing of electoral support in a way which upsetting public servants will not.

The Government has found modest pockets of money, for example the Pounds 24 million for early intervention schemes and now the welcome underpinning of after school clubs. But the scale of necessary investment identified by councils and teachers will remain unattainable. It is too early to say whether next year's council budgets will be as parlous as first predictions suggested, but calculations will be made on the basis of a very modest pay increase for education staff. Above all, the Chancellor cannot afford to give in to wage demands, and to that end a slowing down of economic growth will remove some of the pressure.

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