Vouchers scrapped as security is stepped up

Paul McGill

Sir Patrick Mayhew, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has scrapped pre-school vouchers in a sharp cut in education spending.

Education and training will suffer a double whammy next year with the overall reduction in Government spending and the shift of resources to law and order and compensation for criminal damage.

Sir Patrick said: "Almost Pounds 120 million extra is being provided for security and compensation over the survey period. I would have much preferred to have used this money on job creation, schools, hospitals and housing. The peace dividend has, alas, been reversed, and this obviously has an adverse effect on the provision of public services in Northern Ireland."

The surprising reversal of Government policy on pre-school vouchers, less than four months before they were due to be introduced, will save Pounds 5m in 199798 and Pounds 8.3m in a full year.

Overall funding for education is being cut by Pounds 60m to Pounds 1,376m. But ministers claim that with special adjustments, including Northern Ireland's share of the proceeds of student loans privatisation and lower rates bills for school premises, it will be a standstill budget.

Sir Patrick said classrooms should receive priority, with an extra Pounds 24m, "which means that there will have to be some reductions in the level of services provided centrally by the Education and Library Boards, though I know that even then some pressures will remain for schools".

Although full details of the measures have not yet been released, they include: * 50 per cent cut to library budgets; * Pounds 1 million from the staff development and performance review; * 8 per cent off curriculum advisory and support services; * a very small programme of new building work; * reductions in youth services, discretionary awards, building maintenance and other services; * Pounds 4m less for university research; * key stage 3 assessments by teachers will not be moderated.

Training will also suffer, with 2,000 places cut from the Jobskills programme and a similar number of jobs cut in the Action for Community Employment training system for people out of work for more than a year. One immediate casualty will be Dundonald Training Centre, which will close.

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