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Education spokesperson questions reason for Ministerial under spend

25 November, 2004

Sinn Féin Spokesperson Michael Ferguson speaking at his Advisory Group Meeting this afternoon claimed that the Minister for Education, Employment & Learning had lost the plot in an attempt to legitimise his Government's budget slashing agenda in the Six Counties.

Mr Ferguson, in response to the Minister's Budget cuts, which resulted in the rundown of Worktrack, Learndirect and Enterprise Ulster schemes, said:

"This budget slashing exercise ignores the findings of the Departments own analysis into the skills deficit and undermines its own strategy to address the very problems they themselves have identified.

"To compound matters we have listened to the Education, Learning and Employment Minister complain about how badly the Education & Library Boards have been doing by overspending yet all the while his own Department has 'been harvesting at our expense' and working up a large under spend that could easily avert the crisis now facing the boards.

Commenting upon this revelation Michael Ferguson said,

"The Minister and his Department are criticising the five Education & Library Boards for their average annual overspend of approximately £5 million yet we now know that his own Department has under spent some £50 million.

"If the Department had been working in partnership with the Boards then they could have easily met the annual under spend and still had a surplus of £25 million. This available budget could have been used in TSN areas and delivered programmes to address educational underachievement as well as Special Needs.

" This huge mismanagement of the Educational budget begs a question. Was the Minister and his Department deliberately manipulating the budget to reduce investment despite the need? It is shameful that the Boards are currently discussing the content of school meals and a reduction in vital educational materials while £50 million lies unspent." ENDS

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