After the budget: Councils forced to spend on school buildings

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The Independent Online
Ministers are to force local authorities to spend their education windfall from the Budget on raising standards rather than teachers' salaries by feeding some of the cash into a special fund devoted to government-set projects.

Government sources yesterday said a proportion of the pounds 835m extra money for English education authorities for next year would be distributed as part of the Grants for Education Support and Training (Gest) programme.

To push authorities to contribute more towards Gest , the Government plans to change the balance of funding for the programme. Where now the Government contributes 60 per cent of the total cost of projects and authorities pay the rest, councils will now be asked to share the cost equally.

The overall total in the pot will also rise by pounds 60m in 1997-8 compared with this year, with the Government and local authorities each contributing pounds 180m.

The government sources said last night: "This is one way of ensuring that some of the extra grant we are giving authorities next year is focused on literacy and numeracy and other aspects of the White Paper."

The paper, "Excellence in Schools", to be launched on Monday, will focus on raising standards in the classroom.

Education Secretary David Blunkett yesterday wrote to LEAs setting out his concern that the extra money should be spent on raising standards. He wrote: "I want you to ensure therefore that the extra funding being provided is used specifically for the benefit of schools in your authority."

Authorities are likely to be less content with ministers' tactics to control more of their spending. Ivor Widdison, policy officer for the Local Government Association, said authorities were entirely in agreement with government objectives on raising standards in literacy and numeracy. But he predicted "disappointment" at the government's decision to reduce its proportional contribution to Gest spending.

The Budget also brought authorities a surprise pounds 1.3bn over the life of the Parliament to tackle the backlog of repairs on school buildings.