Teaching cuts or council tax rise?

A LEADING Essex councillor has warned that cuts to the county's education funds will result in teaching jobs going or a substantial increase in council tax.

A LEADING Essex councillor has warned that cuts to the county's education funds will result in teaching jobs going or a substantial increase in council tax.

Iris Pummell, cabinet member with responsibility for education said there could be huge pressure on schools as a number of Government grants towards education will no longer be paid to local authorities – leaving the county with a £20 million shortfall.

Her claim was denied by the Department for Education and Skills, which said funding was substantial and all pupils would receive a guaranteed 3.2% increase.

Mrs Pummell said funding grants towards class sizes, "golden hellos" for new teachers, special needs teaching and drug and alcohol support will all be scrapped - placing the emphasis on Essex County Council and its taxpayers to make up the deficit.

She said she has spoken to headteachers who fear they will have to cut staff.

She said: "From next year we have got a whole level of standards funds being removed and it is going to cause more problems – it is up to the council as to which of the funds we will maintain.

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"It will put schools in the county in an position in terms of whether or not they can keep staff on.

"The Government had talked about education, education, education, but they have slowly removed the support that the local education authorities can give to schools and have in turn put the pressure onto the local tax payer.

"I have warned schools, so they are fully aware of the problem – but it is just impossible, we have not got the money to fund all the grants which will be removed."

She said it would have a massive impact on the people in the county and council officers were already assessing the increases to next year's council tax to fund the cuts.

Mrs Pummel added she had been unable to secure a guarantee from the Government about when the "dampening" fund, worth £44 million during the next three years, would be removed.

The fund is designed to make the changes more manageable.

"If that is taken away next year, we will be in an awful situation," she said.

Tony Durcan, Labour, chairman of the select committee for education services at Essex County Council, said: "It is a political move and it is all about blaming the Government for everything. We have seen great improvements in education in Essex in the last five years.

"The changes are all about letting the school's have the flexibility to invest in a certain area depending on its needs – rather than fixed grants for fixed issues.

"It is also about moving the power away from County Hall and away from political manoeuvring – it is naïve and stupid for her to be making such statements which will scare monger."

He said the changes would not have an impact on teaching or recruitment levels and would help bring more teaching assistants into classrooms.

Leader of the Liberal Democrats at County Hall and Colchester borough councillor, Ken Jones claimed council tax would continue to rise in order to fund the shortfall.

"Losing any teachers would be most regrettable – but the Essex county council tax settlement was not a good one. Council tax will continue increasing, and it is regressive, not based on people's ability to pay and that is why we want it scrapped.

Mr Jones added that Colchester borough' element of the council tax had attempted to deal with the prospective shortfall of the loss of the dampening fund.

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said local education authorities had been guaranteed a minimum increase of 3.2% per pupil.

He said: "We are pressing authorities to pass on increases in school funding. The vast majority have done so.

"The Government has made a commitment to transform secondary education and spending on overall will rise by £12.8 billion from £45 billion this year to £57.8 billion for 2003/4. This represents a 6% average increase each year in real terms."

He said Essex County Council had been passing on the increases it had been given.