Cherie Blair aide recruits former ministers to fight education cuts

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Fiona Millar, personal assistant to the Prime Minister's wife, Cherie Blair, has teamed up with two of Labour's most senior dissidents in a campaign against the Government's cash settlement that is threatening the jobs of London teachers.

Ms Millar, partner of the Downing Street Director of Communications Alastair Campbell, and a school governor in the London Borough of Camden, is working with the former ministers Frank Dobson and Glenda Jackson, both local MPs, to wring more money out of the Department for Education.

London schools have been badly hit by a combination of higher costs and reduced government grants. Ministers defend the reduction on the grounds that they are reversing years when the Conservative government directed excessive amounts into inner London to favour the two Tory boroughs of Westminster and Wandsworth.

The Labour borough of Camden claims to have been so badly hit that it is going to have to cut its schools budget by £1.5m, even after it has moved a similar sum from other departments into education to alleviate the cuts.

Last week, 17 school governors met Mr Dobson and Ms Jackson. They included Ms Millar, who chairs the governors at Gospel Oak Primary School in Camden, north London.

"Everybody agreed that the Government have made a serious miscalculation of the amount of money that was needed for schools this year," Mr Dobson said afterwards.

"It shows up all this talk that the Government would like to get rid of the local education authority and run all the schools directly. The governors all thought this was a ... preposterous idea. If they can't get the greater proposal right for the whole country, what hope have they got of getting each proposal right for each school?"

In April Ms Millar joined a campaign to oppose the funding package for the Gospel Oak school where she has sent her three children. Her youngest, aged eight, is still there.

In a letter written with the school's head, Alan Seymour, Ms Millar urged parents to oppose the new funding package, which will leave the school short by £127,000.

"Although we will do our best to maintain standards, we cannot guarantee that the quality of education will not suffer," it says. "It is our most needy children who stand to lose most because we will not have the staff to provide the same level of extra support."

Teachers and governors argued that increased funding for schools failed to cover the increase in teachers' pay, the rise in national insurance contributions and an increase in teachers' pensions.

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