London schools' funding hit by pounds 33m overspend

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The Independent Online
SCHOOLS and colleges throughout inner London are having their budgets squeezed as boroughs struggle to control overspending totalling more than pounds 30m.

Governors are complaining about the level of budgets, while head teachers predict that funding will become tighter in the coming year. Most authorities say the heaviest cuts will fall on adult and further education, the youth service and discretionary grants, travel and administrative staff.

Final figures for education spending in 1991-92 are only now being worked out and show significant overspends in all but two inner London boroughs. Four months after the last financial year, Tower Hamlets was unable to say what its education spending had been and other authorities complain of difficulty in pinpointing what is being spent and where.

In several authorities, this year's budgets are being hit by knock-on effects and all are complaining of delays and confusion in recouping costs from other authorities for pupils travelling across boundaries as a result of the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority in 1990.

Chris Adamson, chairman of the Association of London Authorities' education committee, said: 'We just do not have enough money for inner-city schools in London.' He pointed out that the Conservative 'flagship' Wandsworth, was in the same position as Labour-controlled boroughs.

'Schools of all types were spending more than we thought on teaching and non-teaching staff, but when you try to pin down which school, it vanishes . . . The desperate needs of schools to put teachers in front of classes have burst through the financial controls,' he said.

Members of Wandsworth's education committee have been given a blunt warning by their director of finance, Simon Heywood, that the pounds 5.8m overspend in their revenue budget for 1991-92 'reflects a serious lack of budgetary control'. Most of this was employee costs - pounds 2.6m in teachers' salaries alone - and had the potential to continue into the present year, he reported.

Greenwich had to cut pounds 2.2m from education when it was poll tax-capped; Lewisham made cuts to central staff, adult classes and the youth service, and measures such as raising school meals' prices, to turn a pounds 5m overspend into a pounds 2m surplus for 1991-92, before recoupment costs.

Hammersmith and Fulham blamed the largest share of its pounds 3.3m loss on late payment by other boroughs and said there were no cuts in prospect, while Camden also claims to be owed large sums but is freezing vacancies and reducing maintenance, and is looking to make pounds 5m savings in its 1993-94 budget.

Westminster has set a savings target of pounds 2m which will fall proportionately hardest on adult education and libraries; Newham attributes part of its pounds 7.2m overspend last year to its reorganisation of surplus places being hit when Stratford School opted out, and to problems with recoupment; and Hackney, which was unable to pay its teachers correctly when it took over from Ilea, has provoked protests at plans to cut education support staff.

Tower Hamlets, which is spending up to pounds 2m more than anticipated on out-of-borough schooling, is slimming its central administration and cutting out school meals in favour of lunchboxes. Southwark is freezing vacancies in anticipation of a very tight budget next year, but it is determined to protect under-fives and school spending.

----------------------------------------------------------------- Former ILEA boroughs' overspend on education 1991-92 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Camden pounds 1.14m Greenwich none Hackney pounds 4.8m Hammersmith & Fulham pounds 3.39m Islington pounds 4.5m Kensington & Chelsea pounds 0.5m Lambeth pounds 3m Lewisham (pounds 2m surplus) Newham pounds 7.2m Southwark pounds 1.9m Tower Hamlets Not available Wandsworth pounds 5.8m Westminster pounds 0.86m TOTAL pounds 33.09 -----------------------------------------------------------------