Education cash `wasted on gimmicks'

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GORDON BROWN'S failure to invest more money in education in Tuesday's Budget came under fire yesterday from all sides of the House.

David Willetts, the Conservative Education spokesman, led the attack, complaining that expenditure limits were essentially unchanged from those set previously.

But the Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett rebutted the claims, saying low-income families could soon be able to buy computers at discount prices in a drive to bridge the gap between the "computer haves and have nots".

He added that the initiative was part of a pounds 400m package announced in the Budget to encourage greater computer literacy and a pounds 20m scheme was being set up to provide subsidised loans for teachers to buy computers. But, during yesterday's debate on Budget education spending, Mr Willetts said that the extra cash had already been outlined as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review in July 1998.

The pounds 2,000 "gift" for every school to buy books were a "classic example", he said. The Government did not trust schools to operate their own budgets and instead was interested only in funding "gimmicks", he added. Some Labour backbenchers are worried it will be hard to persuade party members to support a 1p cut in the basic rate of income tax rather than spend money on health and education.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat Education spokesman, said instead of cutting the basic rate of income tax to 22p, an investment in education would have a "direct impact on educational standards" because of the link between poor education and poverty.

Mr Blunkett insisted there was a "crucial flaw" in this argument because the money was not part of a pounds 19bn sum given to education last summer. "On top of that the Treasury have allocated an additional pounds 561m this week," he said.

Mr Foster said his party welcomed extra money for books but suggested schools should have been allowed to decide how to spend the extra money themselves. He claimed helping teachers to obtain laptop computers would mean only a 4 per cent increase in the numbers with access to laptops, from 2.5 per cent.

Ian Pearson, the Labour MP for Dudley South expressed concern that road hauliers would suffer from the increased duty on fuel. In five to 10 years time, people would wonder why more money was not invested in cleaner fuel technology "rather than penalising our road haulage industry", he said.

Mr Pearson said: "We are spending pounds 6.1bn as a Government on research and development - less than 2.5 per cent of that is going to the experimental development gap.

"If we are going to get better at turning inventions into innovations and commercially exploiting them, then we have really got to look at the main funding streams in Britain," Mr Pearson added.