EMBATTLED Education Minister Jane Hutt yesterday gave the frankest assessment yet of the cash-strapped Assembly Government’s money troubles, telling an audience of teachers: “We haven’t got enough.”
The under-fire minister told the audience of teachers’ union representatives she was having to battle fellow ministers for cash to fund her own proposals.
And she pleaded with the teachers for their help wringing the cash needed for the Assembly’s flagship teaching shake-up from her Cabinet colleagues.
Vale of Glamorgan AM Ms Hutt told the meeting at a plush Cardiff hotel: “I know that we haven’t got enough.
“The budget planning exercise for 2009-10 is now with us and we need to have reliable projections to present to the Finance Minister.
“I need your backing and I have to make sure that we have got the reliable evidence to ensure that I get adequate funding from 2009 to 2010.”
She added: “I’m living, sleeping, working the Foundation Phase. It is so critical that we take this forward.”
Her comments came almost a month to the day after she announced an extra £5m funding for the “learning through play” teaching proposals for three to five-year-olds saying it would “make sure that all children in Wales get to benefit from what it has to offer.”
But yesterday’s remarks appeared to accept she knew the extra £5m – which takes the total funding pot for the scheme to £30m – was well short of the sum needed.
Some teachers estimate that the cash shortfall will mean there are almost twice as many pupils per teacher in some Welsh classrooms as envisaged in the plans for the shake-up, which is dubbed the Foundation Phase. The say the shortfall for next year alone is up to £15m.
After several years of massive public spending growth, the Assembly Government is now being hampered by tighter settlements from Westminster.
Last year’s budget was dubbed “challenging” by Labour and Plaid Cymru ministers and Finance Minister Andrew Davies was forced to promise “a bonfire of inefficiency” in order to deliver growth in spending on frontline services.
Ms Hutt’s comments hint at tough negotiations around the Cardiff Bay cabinet table over the budget for 2009/10.
Shadow Health Minister Alun Cairns accused Ms Hutt of failing to fight hard enough for cash to fund the Foundation Phase.
Teachers are so concerned about the cash problems in Welsh education the NUT Cymru has commissioned a consultant, Professor John Atkins, to research what the National Union of Teachers has dubbed the “funding fog”.
Professor Atkins delivered his preliminary report to the meeting at the Cardiff Marriott hotel yesterday telling the audience to be “careful what they wished for”.
He warned that the divergence in per-pupil funding in Welsh local authorities was smaller than in English councils and that even a review of the Barnett formula – which decides how much cash Wales gets from the UK Government – was unlikely to result in a meaningful percentage increase in funding for schools.
Welsh Secretary of the NUT, David Evans, said that it was of the “utmost importance” that teachers represented their concerns.
He said: “Throughout the country, schools are suffering due to the inadequacies in funding and that means pupils are also suffering.
“The NUT recognises that this is a situation that cannot continue and we are looking to work with all interested parties to devise a way forward.”