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Widow fights to keep out Labour

Opposition pins hopes on independent candidate. Nicola Porter reports

A Labour win in the Blaenau Gwent by-election means education spending plans for 2007-8 will go unchallenged, opposition Assembly members said this week.

As TES Cymru went to press, voters were going to the ballot box. However, opposition parties have been pinning their hopes on an independent candidate who stood for election in tribute to her late husband Peter Law.

Mr Law died from a brain tumour in April, aged 58, leaving the all-important Valley seat free. His wife Trish announced she was going to join the race to keep out Labour, the party her husband fell out with.

Last year, Mr Law united with opposition parties to bring about a string of embarrassing Labour defeats, including the 2006-7 budget that had to be re-drawn after negotiation. Education spending priorities for next year were put before the Assembly earlier this week at a meeting of the education, lifelong learning and skills committee.

Also announced was:

* an extra pound;1.8 million for roll-out of the Welsh baccalaureate;

* a further pound;10.6m for FE, as a result of the Graham review;

* a pound;1.5m cash injection for food strategy schemes;

* cash backing for a national pedagogy initiative.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, also announced a major review into current spending on community education following concerns about under-funding.

However, this year the opposition fears not enough cash is being directed at the frontline, small schools and higher education.

Janet Ryder, Plaid's shadow education spokesperson, said: "If Labour wins the seat then budget priorities could go unchallenged - unlike last year, when we were able to help make some changes."

She also said there were worries that the government was not going to put an extra 6.9 per cent on top of the budget to account for changes to pensions.

Ms Davidson said: "If changes are made then cash will be taken from elsewhere -there will be no more money."

She said small schools had already received an extra pound;1.4m, and money for phasing in the foundation phase had "grown dramatically" this year, More money would be pumped in during the next budget planning round, she said.

And good practice schemes coming out of cash given to schools under the Raise fund, to those with an eligibility of 20 per cent free school meals or more, would be shared across Wales.

The indicative budget in education for 2007-8 stands at pound;1.692 billion, an increase of pound;149m on the 2006-7 baseline. Eight key education priority areas were presented to the committee.

However, an exhaustive list, including basic skills, the funding gap, teacher-training, small schools, 14-19 learning pathways, and capital building projects, were also put forward as priorities. Mr Law left the Labour party after a row over an all-woman short-list. But voters from Blaenau Gwent remained loyal, and he won the seat as an independent candidate in the 2005 general election, despite it being the safest Labour seat in Wales.

A double poll faced voters this week as Mr Law had also been the local MP.

His wife stood only for the Welsh Assembly seat against Labour's Owen Smith.

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