MPs left 'clueless' over spending on education

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The Independent Online
A TORY-LED Commons committee protested yesterday that it had not got a clue as to how much was going to be spent on schools over the next few years - or who to blame if spending fell short of requirements.

The frustration of the all-party Select Committee on Education was illustrated by the 'wholly unacceptable' fact that details of spending on school-books, equipment, repairs and maintenance for the year to April 1992 would not be available until next month.

It was only revealed this week that the amount spent per pupil on books and equipment in English nursery, primary and secondary schools suffered a real cut of 5 per cent in the year to April 1991.

In a scathing report, issued without fanfare or press conference, the committee said: 'We still have no idea how much the Government hopes or expects that local authorities will spend in the next few years on the primary and secondary schools, on which the success of the Government's education reforms depend.' The MPs said ministers had deliberately decided to stop giving a breakdown of spending assumptions for the under-five, primary, secondary, and post-16 sectors. Nick Sanders, the department's accountant-general, told the committee: 'The great bulk of local authority expenditure is not hypothecated for education, let alone for anything within education.'

That problem of accountability had been aggravated by the devolution of decision-making to 'the governing bodies of 24,000 increasingly self-governing schools'.

The MPs said: 'The problem that faces us is that it is impossible to know which authority to hold accountable for any shortcoming in educational provision or use of resources. Should a parent, aggrieved because the roof of his child's classroom leaks, blame the governing body of the school for spending too much on, say, teachers' salaries and too little on repairs and maintenance?

'Or should he blame the local education authority (LEA) for spending money on town halls and public relations rather than on the school's budget? Or is it the fault of the Secretary of State for the Environment in allocating insufficient revenue support grant, or preventing the authority from levying the community charge or council tax at the necessary level? Or the Secretary of State for Education for refusing the let the LEA borrow for capital spending?'

The report did reveal, however, that Whitehall was planning to allocate twice as much money per pupil for grant-maintained school capital spending in 1995-96 as for LEA schools.

Ministers made it clear on Tuesday that they expected councils to spend more on school building work next year than they had spent this year, by diverting additional cash from asset sales. But LEA capital spending fell by 10 per cent in real terms in 1991-92, and Tony Travers, the committee's specialist adviser, said: 'Local authorities appear to be using resources from asset sales outside education, eg council housing, to fund education capital spending.'

The Department for Education's Expenditure Plans 1992-93 to 1994-95; First Report, Education Committee, Session 1992-93; Commons Paper 305; HMSO; pounds 11.

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