Tory figures 'hide reality of education cuts'

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

More than half the education authorities in England are already spending more than the Government's estimate of what their schools' budgets should be next year, according to figures published by the Labour Party.

While the amount allocated to 43 local authorities is more than their current spending, in 65 areas it is less than they already spend. Last night opposition MPs accused ministers of trying to mislead the public by saying they were increasing education spending.

The area spending the most above its spending assessment is the Corporation of London, the country's smallest authority. The Government believes it should be spending almost 75 per cent less than it is. Meanwhile, Brent council in north-west London is spending 14 per cent less this year than the Government thinks it should spend next year.

Stephen Byers, a member of Labour's front bench education and employment team, published the figures compiled by the House of Commons library.

He said they revealed the true extent to which school budgets were being squeezed. "Once again our children are to be short-changed. They are the innocent victims of government policy, facing another year of under-investment in our schools, with teachers' jobs being lost and class sizes rising," he said.

A spokesman for the Department for Education denied the figures revealed widespread government underfunding. The Government's calculations on how much should be spent allowed for a 4.5 per cent increase across the board, he said. "This is a big increase at the time of a tight budget."

t The Government has short-changed councils over its Budget pledge to raise the capital limits that allow the elderly and disabled to keep more of their own cash when they go into residential and nursing homes, local authorities claimed yesterday.

Raising the amounts individuals will be allowed to keep from pounds 3,000 to pounds 10,000 and doubling the point at which help starts from pounds 8,000 to pounds 16,000 will cost local authorities who administer the scheme in England an estimated pounds 70m to pounds 90m, Rita Stringfellow, chair of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities social services committee said yesterday.

Kenneth Clarke, the Chancellor, however, has provided only pounds 60m with which to make the change for the whole of the UK, she said.