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Thursday, November 06, 2003

Funding crisis that needs to be resolved

There was a very useful article in the Education Supplement of today's Western Mail by the Labour Leader of Bridgend Council, Jeff Jones. Jeff is also the Welsh Local Government Association Spokesperson on Education. In the article Councillor Jones points out that the Welsh Assembly Government has given Councils in Wales a 5% increase in their revenue support grant. However, £33 million of this has been earmarked for the Teacher's Workload Agreement, which means that in reality the increase is only 4%. He says that local government needed at least a 5% increase to cover inflationary pressures but that when other growth areas are taken into account this rises to 13%. This means that there will be a funding crisis for local services next year, with education alone being shortchanged to the tune of £70 million. He refers to the £10 million cut in the funding of Grants for Education Support and Training (GEST) and to the fact that there is no anticipated growth in capital investment for schools in the next two to three years. The WLGA were promised a budget of £71 million for school buldings in 2005-6 but instead the budget line says £52 million. Jeff asks the very reasonable question, how can local Councils plan over three years and discuss these plans in budget forums when the Assembly itself, as the main source of finance for education, cannot predict how much it will be spending in the same period? These are questions that the opposition have been asking already in the Assembly and we will continue to ask them. The crunch will come next February when the consequences of the Labour Assembly Government's underfunding of local Councils will be felt in higher Council tax bills, possibly in double figures. This will magnify the inequity and unjustness of this tax, the burden of which bears no relation to the ability to pay. It will also highlight Labour's distorted priorities of putting gimmicks before public services. Unfortunately, the people who will suffer the most from these fundamental misjudgements are pensioners and the poorest members of our society. Is that what Welsh Labour means by Social Justice?

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