Ashdown unveils People First policy

January 17, 1997

Paddy Ashdown, the Liberal Democrat leader, has promised "clear, costed commitments for specific goals" in education.

Better training and adult education were among the targets in a "people first" approach to public services launched by Mr Ashdown this week in his first big news conference in the run-up to the general election.

Britain needs to invest in the public services people say they want avoiding both the nationalising and "crude" market forces methods tried in vain by Labour and the Conservatives, he said.

The Liberal Democrats would be prepared to put an extra penny on income tax to raise any money needed to support better education. But teachers and lecturers should "be warned" that public services under the Liberal Democrats would be "driven by the needs of the consumer, not the producer", he added.

Mr Ashdown made no mention of his party's plans for higher education, or where these fitted in with his new grand plan.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, is grappling with the problem of how to address a 5 per cent gap in his proposals for funding further and higher education, left after party members voted against introducing a student contribution to fees. He joined Mr Ashdown in condemning the impact of a market forces approach to education: "One in five further education colleges is in serious financial difficulty yet we are in the hideous situation where we know of colleges spending Pounds 100,000 a year on marketing and giving cash prizes of up to Pounds 250 to students who get good exam results."

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