Inexperience damned DFEE, says Dorrell

May 29, 1998

Alan Thomson explains what the government's comprehensive spending review could offer further and higher education

OPPOSITION education spokesmen have accused education secretary David Blunkett of mishandling his department's bid for more cash through the CSR.

Shadow education secretary Stephen Dorrell said that the Department for Education and Employment had been "screwed" by the Treasury because of the inexperience of ministers in the DFEE.

Mr Dorrell said that the problems stemmed from the DFEE's expectation that the Dearing report would recommend the abolition of maintenance grants. The department had therefore, he said, "crossed the Rubicon" by conceding this position.

But, said Mr Dorrell: "Dearing did not recommend this. He recommended retaining maintenance grants and introducing flat-rate fees. The DFEE was suddenly faced with the no-win position of trying to sell both charges to students and their parents.

"Meanwhile, the Treasury thought it was Christmas because the DFEE had already conceded the maintenance argument and now Dearing had given the green light on fees. It is my understanding that the DFEE appealed to the Treasury on maintenance grants but there was no going back."

Mr Dorrell said that prior to the election Tony Blair said that savings from welfare reform would provide for increased spending on education. But the government's budget projections showed welfare spending increasing by Pounds 2 billion.

Shadow higher education minister David Willetts said: "One of the serious mistakes David Blunkett has made has been to weaken his position by going through the painful process of tuition fees without getting any more money out of the Treasury. He had a strong hand but he showed the Treasury what he held."

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Don Foster rejected Conservative claims of DFEE mishandling. But he said: "It is unrealistic to expect anything for higher education in the short term. Realistically, I think the switch to resource accounting in 2000-01 offers the only chance of getting more money into higher education.

"David Blunkett has the prime minister's backing on a number of issues but he is unlikely to get it for further higher education funding."

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