Labour is selling old ideas as new, claims Willis

October 22, 1999

Liberal Democrats this week accused the education department of a "smoke and mirrors" approach to policy presentation that could have misled voters into thinking existing initiatives and money were new.

The Liberal Democrats have gathered press releases from the Department for Education and Employment to back their claims that the department is engaged in information spin-doctoring, which leaves it open to the sort of accusations this week dogging home secretary Jack Straw over extra police numbers.

Phil Willis, the party's new education spokesman, said: "I think our universities and students are being grossly misled into thinking that things have become much better since 1997 when, in fact, the government has mainly regurgitated resources.

"The fact is that despite savings because of the abolition of grants and additional income from tuition fees, government investment in higher education has fallen far short of the amount Lord Dearing said was needed.

"I have therefore called for every DFEE press release to carry a government health warning saying 'this information may have been released before'."

Among the press releases cited is one issued on June 8 last year. It announced details of a Pounds 143 million package of measures to widen participation in higher education.

All bar one of the six measures listed had been announced previously.

Similarly, the Liberal Democrats say that a Pounds 22 million pot of money to reduce class sizes was announced five times from June 1997 to July 1998.

The New Deal for over-25s was also launched and then re-launched.

The Liberal Democrats believe that re-releasing may help to explain why the Labour government is issuing 40 per cent more press releases than its Conservative predecessors.

Mr Willis said that he found it particularly galling that, while the government was keen to rehash old news, it was also delaying financial planning information vital to colleges and universities.

He said that the whole reason for the comprehensive spending review was to enable better medium-term planning by government departments and service providers.

But further and higher education are still waiting to find out the settlement for the third and final year of the current review, which ends in 2001-02.

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