Still in hock to the Treasury

24th March 2000 at 00:00
THIS Government has frequently promised hundreds of millions for this or that worthy purpose. The same announcements can be made several times over. Therefore the Chancellor's welcome Budget news for health and education will be greeted if not with total scepticism at least with a prudent "let's wait and see".

One of the disappointments of the comprehensive spending review last year is that investment was promised on the one hand and taken away on the other. That is at the heart of the complaint by teachers who see the benefits of the Excellence Fund lost in general local authority cutbacks. Some money is now promised directly to schools. Councils will be on trust not to reduce other funding just because they hae lost their intermediary role.

The limitations to devolution are most felt at Budget time. The First Minister's power to distribute the Scottish block as he sees fit differs little from the scope formerly enjoyed by the Secretary of State. When the Chancellor brings good news, the benefit north of the border disguises the problem. But the financial relations between Whitehall and Edinburgh have the most potential for conflict.

Even when small gestures are made, they can rebound. The Deputy Minister for Children and Education had to defend his use of pound;6.5 million for special education (page four) against demands by parents and professionals for ring-fencing to ensure authorities do not hijack it.


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