You could almost hear a whoop of delight from Hamilton House, the headquarters of the National Union of Teachers, as Gordon Brown announced his £36bn windfall last week to refurbish the nation's schools over four years. The union is not noted for being close to the Government, but Steve Sinnott, the general secretary, described it as the best announcement Labour had made since coming to power in 1997.
On closer scrutiny, the facts look very different. Not much of this so-called bonanza is new; it has been previously announced; Mr Brown was simply reheating it for his final Pre-Budget Statement.
The Chancellor and the Prime Minister have long been committed to refurbishing all secondary schools, and half of primary schools, over 15 years. It would be wrong to cavil too much about this attempt to pull the wool over our eyes because the amounts of money going on capital building projects have shown a welcome improvement since the days when the Conservatives were earmarking only £700,000 a year. The sum will go up to £10.2bn in 2010-11. It is also the case that the direct payments being made to schools next year - £200,000 to the average secondary school, £50,000 to the average primary - is an increase on what Mr Brown had previously planned. Altogether, his package amounted to about an extra £2bn on previous announcements.
Mick Brookes, the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, is worried that because so much money is being ploughed into capital spending, resources for day-to-day running costs might be squeezed. This would become evident from next year's comprehensive spending review. He may have a point. The money Mr Brown is disbursing is worth having - but we should be aware that it is not the bonanza he would like us to believe. It is, though, a welcome sign that Britain's probable next Prime Minister believes that maintaining decent public services is more important than tax cuts.
A more interesting question is whether he has the same belief as Tony Blair that the academies programme should be doubled from 200 to 400. Mr Blair seems to have confidence that more money will be forthcoming for his academies. We wonder if the Chancellor agrees, or whether he will simply reverse that decision if and when he takes over.Reuse content