Labour attacks premature spending

November 22, 1996

ACCOUNTANTS have been appointed at Northern Ireland's 17 further education colleges even before the Government's incorporation policy has been agreed.

And the Labour Party has claimed about Pounds 1 million could be wasted because the plan may never reach the statute book.

Education minister Michael Ancram insists that by next August colleges will be able to meet the needs of local students and employers, but college principals complain the draft legislation - published earlier this month - threatens their autonomy.

In a parliamentary written answer to Tony Worthington, Labour's spokesman on education in Northern Ireland, Mr Ancram confirmed that Pounds 500,000 has been spent on appointing accountants to each of the colleges, with others working on associated projects including staff training.

The bill will be Pounds 1 million by next year. Mr Worthington suggested that projected savings of Pounds 2 million from the planned reduction of the province's local education authorities from five to three will also be spent on incorporation. The delay in the publication of draft proposals cast doubt on whether it can become legislation before the General Election.

Mr Worthington said: "That seems to be jumping the queue in that you have a policy which has only just been tabled, it hasn't even been debated in the Commons, and yet the Government is spending money as if it is going ahead."

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