Welsh tire of time-lag over funds

December 21, 2000

Welsh funding chiefs have raised concerns over delays in receiving detailed budget plans from the Welsh Assembly.

The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales announced this week that it expected to have £376 million to spend next year - an 8.2 per cent increase on this year.

The extra money was welcomed by funding council officials, but they warned that the slow budget-making process for the assembly was putting Welsh universities under unnecessary pressure.

Phil Gummett, the funding council's head of higher education, said the assembly would not provide details of how much of the overall budget should be top-sliced for particular projects, such as increases in academics' pay, until the new year.

He said this was partly due to the "awkward" system for allocating money to the assembly from Westminster, which puts decisions in Wales one step behind those in England.

"We are somewhat on the back foot in talking to our vice-chancellors, who can see that decisions have already been made in England, and who may have the unions banging on their door demanding to know what they are going to do about pay.

"Some academics may already have been made an offer of employment at an institution in England, and it is not clear how it can be matched in Wales," he said.

Steve Martin, Welsh Funding Councils chief executive, welcomed recognition from the assembly of concerns raised about the forecast higher education budget for 2002-03 and 2003-04, which shows Welsh funding falling further behind England.

Edwina Hart, the assembly's finance minister, said the concerns would be taken into account in the next budget round.

Mr Martin said the funding council would use all its capital research funding for 2002-03 and 2003-04 to make allocations through the new Science Research Initiative Fund, announced by chancellor Gordon Brown in July, to invest more in science buildings, laboratories and equipment.

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