Fresh Coalition row as Lib Dems clash with think tank over education spending

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A new row has broken out inside the Coalition over education, with a Conservative think tank claiming that Nick Clegg’s spending plans do not add up.

Policy Exchange, which was founded by the Education Secretary Michael Gove in 2002, said the Liberal Democrats’ plans to safeguard an extra £10bn of education spending would cost £2bn in the 2015-20 parliament and could mean damaging cuts in other departments.

On Monday, Mr Clegg announced plans to extend the ring-fence which protects the schools budget to spending on 16-19 year-olds and provision for two-to-four year-olds.

Policy Exchange calculated that the £2bn cost is equivalent to increasing cuts in the next parliament to non-protected departments from 11.8 to 12.9 per cent. The other protected areas are health and overseas aid.

Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange, said: “Such a commitment is costly, especially as it will mean protecting more spending than the Lib Dems seem to say it will, and will mean further pressures on other un-ring-fenced areas like policing, transport and defence".

A Lib Dem spokesman said: “It is Policy Exchange that has got their sums wrong. It fails to understand that we have already had a spending review for the 2015-16 financial year. It makes a series of assumptions that are incorrect.”

The Coalition parties have clashed over GCSE reform, the inspections regime for academy schools, free school meals and whether academies and free schools should employ qualified teachers and stick to the national curriculum.