23rd May 1997 at 01:00
The Scottish Office is doubling the money earmarked this year for special + measures to boost reading and writing competence in the first two years of + primary.The unexpected announcement will provide #163;4 million for early + intervention projects on top of #163;9 million already allocated for the next + three years. That means #163;7 million will be available for the next school + session, one of the first concrete examples of Labour's pre-election commitment+ to "trawl every nook and cranny" of Scottish Office spending to rebalance the + books.Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, said: "The extra cash will go to + support the widest possible range of projects, including extra help in the + classroom so that teachers can focus on the basic skills; staff development and+ training to ensure best practice; encouraging liaison between the home and + school; and providing attractive and effective teaching materials."Donald + Dewar, the Secretary of State, said #163;17 million had been found for + education, health and housing by "good housekeeping". He agreed the sums were + "necessarily modest" this year because much of the Scottish Office's #163;14 + billion budget was already committed. Mr Dewar said later that this was "but + the prelude to a major review of spending within Scotland and the rest of the + United Kingdom".The Scottish Office is to co-operate with parallel Whitehall + audits, particularly in fulfilling the "new deal" pledge to help 25,000 + under-25s in Scotland off the dole and into work, education or training. "But + we will not be averse to taking an independent line," the Scottish Secretary + said.Mr Wilson also signalled his particular interest in special educational + needs by announcing that #163;500,000 of the #163;4 million would be + earmarked for projects in this field. He described that initiative as "a + matter of both symbol and substance". Each council will still be limited to a + #163;300,000 grant but the additional cash will allow 23 to benefit from + August instead of 10. The Scottish Office aims to announce the successful + bidders by June 14.Labour's other key pledge, to reduce class sizes in the + early years of primary school, will have to wait a year until cash is released+ from phasing out assisted places. Mr Wilson "bitterly regretted" the delay but+ said primary classrooms could look forward to the progressive redirection of + #163;14 million over the next seven years.It was the modesty of the + Government's efforts rather than its intentions which exercised the Liberal + Democrats, who dismissed the funding switch as "a slight shuffle in the right + direction, not even a step". Donald Gorrie, the party's education spokesman, + said: "Four million pounds for education is, frankly, piffling when you + consider that, by adding a penny to the basic rate of income tax, Scottish + education could have 50 times that amount every year."But the Educational + Institute of Scotland said that every penny restored to the education system + was welcome.