Shephard fails to reject claims in leak

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Political Editor

Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, yesterday did not explicitly reject claims leaked from within her department that "insufficient resources now threaten the provision of education in the state school sector".

Mrs Shephard, who is in the throes of a tough spending wrangle with the Treasury over expenditure for next year, emphatically denied in a BBC radio interview Opposition claims that the leaked draft demonstrated she was at odds with John Major over education policy.

David Blunkett, shadow Education Secretary, to whom the confidential draft of her submission to the Chequers summit was leaked, wrote yesterday to Mrs Shephard calling on her to confirm that she agreed with the strictures in the memorandum on funding. He added: "You failed to answer that question on the World at One today despite it being put to you three times."

The continuing row over the leak came as Ian McCartney, Labour employment spokesman, claimed there was now a serious threat to the timetable for introducing the Job Seekers' Allowance. The draft warns that if the allowance is not implemented by its new delayed target date of autumn 1996, the unemployed will not receive benefit. Mrs Shephard is known to have raised the issue at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

Mr McCartney said he had been told by "impeccable sources" that it was impossible to bring in the new allowance by October 1996. Mrs Shephard's department insisted yesterday that the allowance was still on target but Mr McCartney said that three options were now being considered: to scrap the allowance altogether; to delay its implementation for a further period; or to implement it in some "less sophisticated form".

Asked yesterday whether she agreed with the statement on funding, Mrs Shephard said that spending on education had increased this year but she acknowledged the effect of increased spending had been "patchy". She said she had seen the draft memorandum but had discarded it in the presentation she made to the Cabinet.

Mrs Shephard was at pains to reject Labour's charge that the paper's warning against the key task of raising standards being overshadowed by debate on the "mechanics" of delivering education showed a divide between her and Mr Major.

"There is no split between the Prime Minister and me on education policy or anything else," Mrs Shephard said.