Foster points policy finger at Labour

January 19, 1996

The Labour party has been challenged by the Liberal Democrats to "put up or shut up" on its plans for further and higher educationfunding.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat education and employment spokesman, laid down the gauntlet as Labour prepared to debate education in its opposition day debate in the House of Lords this week.

He said that in a recent letter to him, David Blunkett, the shadow education and employment secretary, admitted that Labour had "not yet placed a finger on the amount to be spent on education in the initial stages of a Labour government".

Mr Foster claimed this proved Labour was not prepared to come forward with detailed proposals for funding universities and colleges before the next general election. "I get the impression that the Labour party has already made up its mind that it would be politically expedient to avoid producing funding plans for further and higher education before the election. But people have the right to know what their policies are, what they will cost, and where the money will come from," he said.

The Liberal Democrats say Labour failed to support them in opposing tax cuts at the expense of education spending in the run up to the Budget settlement.

A Treasury select committee report published on Monday questions the Government's claim that it has increased overall education spending. The report says the education settlement, which ministers presented as representing an increase, "does not . . . have quite the substance the chancellor claimed for it".

Mr Foster said the report showed that education spending as a whole had stood still, rather than increased. And he called on Labour to support Liberal Democrat amendments to the Finance Bill, which would commit the Government to more education spending.

The Liberal Democrats federal policy committee meets on Tuesday to consider radical proposals for the financing of universities and colleges. "We are being honest about the difficulties that must be faced. It is time for Labour to do the same," Mr Foster said.

A Labour spokesman said the party was currently reviewing funding of student maintenance and expansion of access in higher education. "We are preparing policies for implementation in Government, and we do not have the luxury of permanent opposition which the Liberal Democrats seem keen to maintain," he said.

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