Headlines: June 25th, 1999

Education Minister David Blunkett’s charge that some local councils are failing to spend enough education funding on schools has brought a robust response. Local Education Authorities deny that money for frontline education is being spent on red tape in the town hall. The Minister remains adamant that the figures in the league table of education spending produced by his department have been carefully checked by officials. The Local Government Association, representing the councils, claims that the figures are riddled with flaws and inconsistencies. The Association also claims that the league table contains figures that have been ‘doctored’ by officials.

The truth is always difficult to discern, but what has emerged is a statistical minefield. All councils compile figures in a unique way that meets their specific local needs, so no outturn is directly comparable with another. Some authorities classify spending on school meals and school transport as ‘school’ expenditure, but some use a different classification. The same situation applies for special educational needs, and expenditure on the National Grid for Learning and Education Action Zones. Expenditure on building work, such as creating IT facilities, also significantly affects the figures. As a capital expenditure it does not feature under any of the revenue accounts.

This little local difficulty points up the hazards that lay in store when the Freedom of Information Act opens the door to a wealth of data about public services which proves to be open to different interpretations.