20 March 2006

Board votes against school cuts

BBC

The Belfast Education and Library Board has refused to make cuts of £6.6m to its budget.

Twenty of the board's 35 members rejected the proposal, whilst five abstained. It is the second time the board has refused to implement cuts.

Two weeks ago it voted to ask Education Minister Angela Smith for more money but she said no more was on offer.

Board chairman Jim Rodgers said members felt they "could not carry out the government's dirty work".

"The Belfast board area has suffered a reduction in funding of £18m from 2004 to 2007 and the current level of expenditure on frontline services - which have been protected in the past - is no longer sustainable," he said.

"It is the government's responsibility to provide adequate funding for education in Belfast so the board can continue to provide a quality service to the young people of this city."

UUP assembly members Michael McGimpsey and Fred Cobain accused the government of "rank hypocrisy".

"While Labour direct-rule ministers try to make swingeing cuts in education here, their prime minister is talking up education and the need to give children a future," they said in a joint statement.

'Clear message'

"Tackling the educational disadvantages faced by many inner city children from deprived areas must be a priority for any government, whether devolved or direct rule.

"You cannot on the one hand talk up education while on the other make drastic cuts that will have a direct negative effect on children and parents."

The SDLP's Tim Attwood said the board had sent a clear message to the Ms Smith.

"Your government promised to make the education of the nation's children their "first priority"," he said.

"The direct rule ministers need to live up to this promise and properly invest in education."

Sinn Fein's Michael Ferguson urged the South Eastern Education and Library Board to do the same as the Belfast board.

"It is crucial that everyone unites against the erosion of the education system by British direct rule ministers," he said.

"The sooner we put the assembly back, the sooner we will have a local accountable minister with a real budget to support education and learning".

The board has until Thursday to come up with a financial plan for 2006-2007.

Its chief finance officer warned board members could end up not being able to pay salaries and bills.

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