Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland schools face £100m shortfall due to political deadlock

By Steven Alexander

Education in Northern Ireland is facing an additional £100 million 'black hole' because of the Stormont deadlock, an MLA has claimed.

The SDLP's Daniel McCrossan said nine months without a Stormont Executive was taking a massive toll on public services, and if the parties couldn't work together for the future of children here "then there really is no hope".

He was speaking after a letter from the civil servant now running education in Northern Ireland concluded bluntly: "I cannot spend money the Department does not have."

Permanent Secretary Derek Baker told Mr McCrossan that the Department of Education had £24m less in 2017-18 than the previous year.

"In addition, it faces unavoidable, rising cost pressures in such areas as teaching and non-teaching staff pay, Special Educational Needs and essential school maintenance," Mr Baker wrote.

"Together these factors create cost pressures of over £100m to be addressed in 2017-18.

"This has unfortunately resulted in the need for difficult decisions to cease or reduce a number of programmes if the Department is to have any prospect of operating within its budget, which I as Accounting Officer am obliged to do.

"Put simply, I cannot spend money the Department does not have."

Mr McCrossan said the resulting cuts will be hugely detrimental to children's educational outcomes.

"We are nine months without a Stormont Executive and this is taking a huge toll on public services," he commented.

"It is hugely concerning to learn that the Department of Education is facing £100m in pressures yet we have no Executive formed to fight for additional spend.

"We have already witnessed a spate of education cuts that really have left our education service in financial crisis. Only last week we heard that primary schools across the North are being stripped of vital funding amounting to tens of thousands of pounds each. It is now my concern that these cuts may now get even worse as civil servants try to balance their books."

Mr McCrossan said he had met with teachers and union representatives recently in Stormont.

"It's clear that they are fed up," he explained. "They are already facing intolerable pressures and it's my fear that news today of an additional £100m in pressures will lower morale even further.

"It's clear the status quo cannot continue. The political stalemate is not in the best interests of our children and only a fully functional Executive can solve this crisis in education.

"If political parties cannot come together for the future of children here, then there really is no hope."

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