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£200m shortfall hits schools


Belfast Telegraph
By Kathryn Torney
Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Schools across Northern Ireland are likely to suffer from cuts in front line services as the Department of Education struggles to cope with a funding shortfall of more than £200m over the next two years, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal today. 

The department's “inescapable pressures” emerged during the recent Strategic Stocktake exercise commissioned by the Department of Finance and Personnel, and carried out by all Government departments.

In response, a spokesman for the Department of Education admitted that next year “will be difficult” and that there will be “a premium on careful planning and prudent financial management”.

Ulster Unionist education spokesman Basil McCrea warned: “This is the tightest it has ever been financially for every department. If there is a reduction in the money coming to Northern Ireland from Westminster, then we are in serious trouble. If cuts need to be made, I have no doubt that this will affect front line services.”

The financial pressures registered for Caitriona Ruane's department are £60m in 2009/10 and £50.1m in 2010-11. Capital pressures of £90m in 2010-11 for major school building projects were also submitted.

The Executive's budget position for the next two financial years was due to be debated by Northern Ireland's Assembly members this morning.

Extracts from a department briefing of the education committee last week reveal the extent of the problem and confirm it is unlikely that additional resources will be made available “at this time”. Ms Ruane’s funding bids include:

  • £6.4m to maintain the Extended Schools Programme at 2008-09 levels during 2009/10. “If this gap is not addressed this will mean a significant reduction in this valuable service... as well as attracting significant adverse reaction from schools and other key stakeholders.”
  • £11.6m for 2009/10 and £9.5m for 2010/11 to pay for job evaluations/regrading. The groups affected include cleaners, music tutors, education welfare officers and domestic assistants.
  • Teachers' pension/ redundancy costs — £22.7m for 2009/10 and £19.5m for 2010/11. From 2009 these costs will no longer be met by the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and instead will have to be paid by the employers of the individual teachers from their existing budgets.
  • £90m in 2010/11 for 100 major works school projects. “Failure to secure additional resources would mean that some projects would need to be slowed down or halted until sufficient resources were available in the subsequent years.”
  • £17.9m over the two years to cover recent rises in energy and utility costs.
  • £3.1m to extend a scheme which provides funding for school uniforms for post-primary children with parents on low incomes to primary schools.
  • £4m to fund the new Early Years Strategy which will include a new dedicated programme for two-year-olds.

Mr McCrea continued: “This is over and above the old list of priorities for education. The Education Minister bid for £35m in the last monitoring round and got £6m.

“The DUP keeps arguing for efficiency savings in administration but there is no leaner organisation than the Department of Education in terms of administration. If cuts need to be made I have no doubt that this will affect front line services. There will be redundancies, closures and trouble and strife for many teachers and schools.

“We may be able to squeeze these pressures through if there are no shocks to the system but if Gordon Brown runs out of cash and reduces the money coming to Northern Ireland, then we are sunk.

“We need a responsible debate about how we are going to deal with these problems and find the money that is vitally needed for the education system in Northern Ireland.”

The Department of Education spokesman said: “The Education Minister had identified budget pressures for next year as part of the Strategic Stocktake, which was undertaken by all departments. The outcome of this exercise was confirmed in the Finance Minister’s statement to the Assembly last week and no additional allocations have been made to departments at this time.

“The Minister will need to judge the extent to which any of these pressures can be managed from within existing allocations for 2009-10 or within the in year monitoring process.

“It is clear, however, that next year will be difficult, with a premium on careful planning and prudent financial management.”


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