General Election 2015: Nick Clegg demands £10bn extra for education as the price of coalition

 

Nick Clegg would demand a £10bn-a-year boost to education spending in talks with Labour or the Conservatives if next year’s general election ends in another hung parliament.

The first spending pledge to be included in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, announced today, would extend the protective ring-fence which currently applies to schools spending on 5-16 year-olds to the entire education budget. This would raise spending on early years education by £3bn a year, and the budget for 16-19 year-olds by £7.1bn annually. These figures would rise with inflation each year.

The Deputy Prime Minister said his party would protect spending on children “from cradle to college”. He said he would spell out how the pledge would be funded closer to the election.

But his promise met with a sceptical reaction. Martin Freedman, director of economic strategy and negotiations at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “We look forward to further recantations in education policy from the Lib Dems and we suggest that they may want to consider rethinking the trebling of university tuition fees as a priority.”

David Blunkett, the former Education Secretary, accused Mr Clegg of copying proposals he has made to Labour. “How the Lib Dems can proclaim a policy of ring-fencing education funding when they’ve agreed to reduce by £200m the education services grant to academies across the country, and a freeze in cash terms for two-thirds of England’s schools next year, goodness only knows.”

Mr Clegg would not be drawn on whether he would "die in the ditch" to secure the funding boost in any future coalition talks. He made clear he would demand another full-scale coalition, with Lib Dems taking ministerial posts, and rebuff any move by Labour or the Tories for a looser “confidence and supply” deal in which the Lib Dems would support the biggest party in key Commons votes but not serve as ministers.

The Lib Dem leader dismissed another attack on him by Dominic Cummings, a former special adviser to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who said Mr Clegg was a “goner” who could not recover his authority and who produced “mad” ideas and gimmicks.

Mr Cummings said schools should stop being “cottage industries” and join together to emulate supermarket chains to push up standards. He suggested that under a future Conservative government, schools would increasingly be run in “chains”, possibly by the private sector, that would control standards and be responsible to the Department for Education. He told The Times: “Supermarkets aren’t good because everyone in them is a genius, they work because they get very high performance out of mediocre people.”

Mr Cummings’ remarks raised the prospect that a future Conservative manifesto might include a pledge to allow private companies to take over a chain of schools and run them for a profit. Mr Gove wanted to include the idea in the 2010 Coalition agreement but was blocked by the Lib Dems.

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