School funding growth slows under Labour, study says

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The Independent Online

Ministers were embroiled in a fierce row last night after a leading local government expert said that education spending under Tony Blair will increase by less than it did under John Major.

Despite the Prime Minister's election promise that his priorities would be "education, education, education", and a pledge, in July 1998, by Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, to invest £19bn in education over the next three years, the Blair government will not match the 13.3 per cent increase in spending, in real terms, under John Major, says an analysis carried out for The Independent.

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London Group, a research centre at the London School of Economics, said that, in the first three years of the present government, education spending is up by 3.8 per cent or 1.25 per cent a year.

Writing in today's Education supplement in The Independent, he argues that spending rose in real terms under the Major government by 2.25 per cent a year on average with the biggest increases during the earlier years. "It is virtually inconceivable that the average figure [under Labour] will overhaul the Major government's spending rate by the date of the next election," he said.

Government sources said last night that Mr Travers' figures were wrong and that spending between 1998 and 2002 would increase by 16 per cent in real terms. The total increase in spending per pupil under Major was just £5 compared with an expected £300 in this Parliament, they claimed.

Mr Traverse said: "It's impossible to say at this point what spending will be in 2000-01. It is likely to be between 2 and 3 per cent or slightly more. Everything hinges on the size of local authority budgets."

The reason for the "modesty of Labour's spending increases since taking office in 1997 is widely understood, he said. "Having agreed to live with Kenneth Clarke's public spending plans for the first two years in power, the Blair government has only been able to start increasing spending rapidly since 1999-2000."

His comparisons are based on Conservative spending in each year from 1991-92 to 1996 -97 and Labour spending for 1997-98 to 1999-2000.