Lib Dems stall cost blueprint

March 14, 1997

WORRIES over capital spending have delayed Liberal Democrat plans for releasing precisely costed higher education funding plans, meaning that they may not now be issued before the general election.

Don Foster, Liberal Democrat spokesman on education, said that the party still planned to announce a total spend for further and higher education, with indications of likely priorities. The party has promised an extra Pounds 10 billion for education over the next parliament.

Plans for schools were outlined last weekend by party leader Paddy Ashdown, speaking at the party's spring conference in Cardiff. But Mr Foster said this week that, given the many demands on his team and the imminence of the election, it was unlikely they would be able to offer anything more precise.

He has been working on fresh projections since last year's party assembly rejected the option of charging tuition fees, leaving a Pounds 500 million gap to be filled. But a fresh stumbling block arose in the urgency of demands for capital development.

Mr Foster said: "We are very keen not to increase the public sector borrowing requirement beyond its present appalling level, but we have to do something about the capital side. We are looking at the options for this, which means recalculating other elements in the package. This is likely to mean putting aside other elements for the moment - one possible example is our plan to get rid of the parental contribution."

He said that the priority in further and higher education was improving support for students, particularly part-timers. He would not expect to see renewed expansion until problems of maintenance, quality of provision and infrastructure had been addressed.

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