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Unitaries could be worse off

A TES survey reveals that authorities of all types are trying to make education a top priority in an attempt to save teachers' jobs. But scores remain under threat. Daniel Rosenthal reports.

Schools in four of England's 12 new unitary authorities will be worse off in 1996-97 than in their final year under county council control, according to the TES survey.

All the councils, which come into existence on April 1, claim that education is a top spending priority. However, Bristol City, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and East Riding are cutting school budgets by between 0.8 and 2.5 per cent and expect teaching jobs to be lost.

Of the 11 fledgling councils which responded to the survey only two, North Somerset (plus 1.8 per cent) and Redcar and Cleveland (plus 0.13 per cent), are increasing school budgets, with five (Bath and North-east Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Stockton, North Lincolnshire and North-east Lincolnshire) maintaining funding at current levels. These councils expect teachers' jobs to be safe.

Hartlepool was the only respondent not intending fully to fund the teachers' pay award, providing money for just a 1.5 per cent increase.

No figures were received from Hull City Council.

The survey shows that the new authorities, which are being created out of the abolition of Avon, Cleveland and Humberside county councils as part of the Tories' local government reorganisation, are spending up to the limit imposed by central government. Except for South Gloucestershire, they are targeting other services to protect education. Most have also cut back on the non-statutory elements of the education budget.

Seven have reduced youth service funding by an average of 9.5 per cent, with Stockton knocking off almost 18 per cent. Eight authorities are cutting adult or community education, by an average of 8.2 per cent, and six are cutting discretionary awards, by an average of 9.7 per cent.

Bristol City Council, the largest of the four authorities taking over from Avon County, is making the severest cuts, with more than Pounds 1m coming off non-school budgets. Primary parents may have to pay for their children's swimming lessons after the council removed all its Pounds 208,000 of support. Bristol's Pounds 146,000 share of Avon's "initiatives" programme has also been lost, as has a Pounds 43,000 grant to the museums' service.

Improvements to school buildings will have to be put off in Hartlepool, Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland, where the borough councils have cut repairs and maintenance budgets.

Five of the new authorities have cut the cost of central education administration, compared to equivalent county council levels for 1995-96.

East Riding has made the biggest administrative savings, down a third on Humberside County Council's final budget, with North Lincolnshire saving 16 per cent of the Humberside equivalent.

Several councils said they were unable to make valid financial comparisons between their inaugural budgets and last year's county council figures.

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