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A Submission by the Committee for Education on the Department of Education’s Proposals on the Review of Spending Plans 2010-11

1. Introduction - The Committee for Education receives regular (normally monthly) briefings from Department of Education senior officials on the education budget. At its 18 November 2009 meeting, the Committee questioned officials how the then £33 million resource pressures and £70 million capital requirement for 2010/11 would be addressed, together with further expected additional efficiencies from the Executive’s Spending Plans for 2010/11. Officials responded that the Minister was reviewing both resource and capital expenditure plans and information on this would be available to Committee early in 2010. The Committee heard that, in the absence of any additional capital funding, DE will not release any further capital projects and cease work on bringing new projects into the process. The Committee was so concerned with the position on capital funding that it commissioned and received a specific DE briefing at its 9 December meeting on the Department’s capital spending programme. This confirmed the serious position on the capital programme which would be restricted in 2010-11 to minor works spend required to meet statutory requirements. The Committee was also informed of some £240 million backlog of requests from schools for maintenance. The Committee re-affirmed its request for information on the Minister’s review of the Capital Programme.

2. The Committee received a letter dated 14 January 2010 (attached below) from the Minister of Education setting out the Executive’s draft proposals for 2010-11 Spending Plans amounting to savings of £51.7 million (2.6%) current expenditure and £22 million (11.5%) capital expenditure for the education budget. The letter highlighted that there are other pressures on the 2010/11 education budget of some £40 million current expenditure and a breakdown of this was detailed in Annex A of the letter.

3. The Minister’s letter stressed that the scale of the pressures would mean it would ‘ not be possible to avoid some reduction in funding   direct to the classroom’ . The letter also attached at Annex B a list of five areas where the Minister said ‘ some savings could be deliveredbut this would account for only a small proportion of the overall savings required’. The Minister said that she was ‘ keen to obtain the  views of the Education Committee on how we can deliver these savings and address pressures’.

4. At the Committee’s request, the Minister of Education attended the 3 February 2010 Committee meeting. The Minister summarised the education budget position for 2010-11, highlighting the proposed savings and other pressures, together with some of the key issues detailed in her letter to the Committee of 14 January 2010. These included the need to reduce bureaucracy and streamline delivery of administration in education; with the delay in establishing the Education and Skills Authority, a Convergence Delivery Plan has been produced to maintain the momentum of reform and deliver the 50% management saving (430 posts) through ‘invest to save’, generating £20 million annual saving; with 70% of the education budget being salary costs, the need to protect as far as possible frontline services ; and the need for an equality impact assessment of proposed spending reductions. The question and answer session raised various points on these issues, with the Committee highlighting to the Minister that the primary role of the Committee was to scrutinise the Minister’s proposals to address proposed savings and pressures and it was not in a position to consider and give its view on:

(a) The five areas for potential reductions identified by the Minister (see para 6) as the Committee has not been provided with sufficient information on the nature of the spend in these areas and, in particular, the impact of potential reductions;

(b) The Convergence Delivery Plan, as the Committee has yet to see the Plan despite its earlier requests to be briefed on the Plan;

(c) The Minister’s review of the capital programme, as the Committee has not been provided with the criteria to be used in the review or any outcomes, despite its earlier requests for this;

(d) Any other measures the Minister may be considering to deliver additional savings, as the Committee has not be informed on this and no information has been posted on the DE website.

5. The Committee received briefings from senior department officials on the 2010-11 budget situation at its meetings of 20 and 27 January 2010, questioning officials and seeking more details on the proposed education budget distribution for 2010-11, against the 2009/10 starting position. The Committee also sought specific details on the potential reductions to the 2010-11 budget in the five areas identified in Annex B to the Minister’s letter. Details on the latter in the form of the proposed uplift from the 2009/10 baseline expenditure to the 2010/11 baseline position, and on the former were provided to the Committee for its 27 January meeting and these are also attached below this submission (as Annex A and Annex B dated 26 January 2010).

6. The Committee noted that the potential reductions to the 2010-11 education resource budget in the five areas identified if no uplift in expenditure was allocated to the 2010-11 baseline would be as follows:

a. Reductions in bureaucracy/ streaming of services (E&LB’s, CCMS, education NDPBs etc)
£8.2 million
b. C2K
£6.6 million
£2.2 million
d. Entitlement Framework
£5.5 million
e. School Improvement Programme
£7.0 million
NB: Officials stressed that the Minister of Education has made no firm conclusions on these potential reductions.

7. A key area of the 2010-11 resource budget scrutinised by the Committee with officials on 20 and 27 January 2010 was the position on the proposed Education and Skills Authority (ESA) in relation to ESA implementation ‘invest to save’ costs and ESA establishment costs secured in Budget 2007, plus ESA efficiencies of £13 million already taken out of the education budget baseline for 2010-11. On the former because ESA has not been established the Department surrendered to DFP in the 2008/09 and 2009/10 in-year monitoring rounds some £2.2 million and £20.5 million respectively, on the basis that these resources would be required again to allow for the establishment of the ESA. This, plus a further £1 million surrendered as an easement in December 2009/10 monitoring, was presented in the Minister’s letter as a significant pressure (£23.7 million) within the £40 million ‘other pressures’ for 2010/11. On the latter, the Minister wrote to the Committee on 26 January 2010 regarding a Convergence Delivery Plan which she had received, which would remove duplication, streamline services and create greater efficiencies – and make an important contribution towards delivering the £13 million ESA efficiency savings already out of the 2010/11 budget. The Convergence Plan would also contribute to the first of the five areas of potential reductions referred to above at para 6. The Committee has yet to see the Convergence Plan and is therefore unable to comment on it in this submission.

8. The Committee noted that £24.3 million is currently allocated in the 2010-11 baseline for Special Education Needs (SEN) Review. The Committee understands this is for teacher training and capacity building, with presumably a large proportion of it to implement the new SEN and Inclusion Review policy proposals - bearing in mind the baseline allocation for this area in 2009/10 was £1 million. However, the Committee, having taken considerable evidence from key stakeholders (including organisations representing children with disabilities, teachers unions and parents of children with SEN) has serious concerns with a number of the Department’s policy proposals on SEN and Inclusion as set out in the DE Consultation document. The Committee raised the issue of the timing of such a significant spend on SEN training/capacity building related to the Department’s policy proposals, bearing in mind that officials said that more detailed proposals will be developed for consultation after consideration of the numerous responses to the ‘high level’ consultation. Therefore, the Committee concludes that a substantial proportion of the £24.3 million could be utilised to address pressures in the 2010-11 budget on the basis that the resources would (subject to the outcomes of the consultations) be a priority and would be required in subsequent years.

9. As reflected above, the Committee has not commented on other areas of spend proposed in the 2010-11education budget, primarily because it was not in a position to fully assess the impact which potential reductions in spend would have on services, in particular on frontline classroom services.

10. Finally, the Committee noted that the Department of Education has yet to provide on its website any proposed measures for 2010-11 to be taken to deliver additional savings etc, as requested in the Executive’s Review of 2010-11 Spending plans for NI Departments document (para 4.12).

5 February 2010