£21m of schools' cash not spent, claim

By Juliette MaxamTHE Government has accused Essex County Council of holding back more than £21 million from the county's cash-strapped schools.Schools in Essex have complained of a cash crisis, with dozens of teachers facing redundancy and some schools facing deficits of up to £500,000.

By Juliette Maxam

THE Government has accused Essex County Council of holding back more than £21 million from the county's cash-strapped schools.

Schools in Essex have complained of a cash crisis, with dozens of teachers facing redundancy and some schools facing deficits of up to £500,000.

It came after the council gave them a stand-still budget, which translated into cuts when rises in teachers' pay, National Insurance and pension contributions were taken into account.


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Education Secretary Charles Clarke has now accused Essex County Council of holding back £21.2m from schools in the county.

The Government also claimed schools in Essex could have received an extra £6.3m if the county council had devolved more funding to schools rather than providing services centrally.

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But county council cabinet member Stephen Castle condemned last night Mr Clarke for accusing the authority of holding back money.

"This is just a cynical political stand by the Government to cover up the movement of funds away from Essex to Labour authorities in the north," he said.

"Mr Clarke knows that most of the funds would not be spent on day one of the financial year and that in the normal course of events funds will be allocated as specific projects come on stream."

Education bosses at County Hall are expecting £70 million of cuts in the next three years, due to the Government's abolitions of standards funds grants and its reworking of the formula used to give local authorities money, which has shaved millions of pounds off the income for Essex.

Howard Williamson, chairman of the north Essex branch of the Essex Primary Schools Headteachers Association, said: "It's very complex. Certainly there is money to come in from standards funds (grants allocated for specific projects in schools), for example the booster grant to provide booster classes.

"There could also be some National Grid for Learning money for computers. There's all sorts of things like this."

But Mr Williamson, rather than joining in a war of words between the county council and the Government, called for the reform of schools funding.

"What we are saying is 'Cut all this messing about, all this form-filling, it's all extra work. Just give us a sum of money to run our schools which is adequate and give us the freedom to make our own choices as individual institutions'," he said.

But he added headteachers would not be in favour of a major reform of teachers' pay, proposed yesterday by the Government, in which teachers' pay deals would be done on a three-year rather than an annual basis.

The Government claimed three-year deals would provide stability and predictability in the cost of teachers' salaries, which account for up to 90% of schools' budgets – but Mr Williamson said a three-year deal would not take account of sudden rises in inflation.

juliette.maxam@eadt.co.uk

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