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Sinn Féin President to challenge direct rule minister over education cutbacks

13 June, 2005

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP will lead a party delegation including Michael Ferguson MLA, Fermanagh councillor Thomas O'Reilly and Derry councillor Maeve McLaughlin to meet with the direct rule Education Minster Angela Smith tomorrow, Tuesday 14th June, at 10.30am in Stormont Buildings.

Speaking today party Education Spokesperson Michael Ferguson said:

"There is a funding crisis facing the Education Library Boards that will damage the provision of education services.

"The reality is that once rising costs from wage agreements for teaching and non-teaching staff, the 10% increase in transport costs and 7% increase in rates bills are taken into account that the ELBs have had a below inflation increase of just 1.8% in their budgets. This is why the five Library Boards are together facing deficits of over £30 million for each of the next two years. This will lead to cuts and the impact on services will be devastating.

"The loss of frontline and support staff will make it very difficult to schools to maintain let alone develop services. It will mean that school children will face greater dangers are they travel to and from school and it will mean that children who require more support in the classroom won't get it and it will mean that children are less likely to get healthy school meals. It will also mean educating children in substandard classrooms and it will mean cutting back on library and music services.

"Unless direct rule ministers go back to the drawing board then the below inflation increases will lead to a huge shortfall that will be compounded next year. The danger is that in trying to meet some unattainable budget target that we will miss the point of education.

"We need to turn this debate on its head and begin by analysing what is the current level of expenditure required. How are we going to meet the costs of additional statementing, of home based educational provision and increasing special needs education provision and how are going to tackle the maintenance backlog.

"We need to see immediate resources allocated and we need to assess the overall block grant allocation, the commitment of the British government to a genuine Peace Dividend and also the education budget allocation against the level of need.

"Sinn Féin believe that there are a number of steps that can help move the situation forward. We believe that responsibility for wages should be met centrally and that then the extent of remaining educational provision by the Education Library Boards should be assessed and a budget to deliver allocated on the basis of needs." ENDS

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