SEELB warned not to compromise children's needs

Education Minister Maria Eagle has today issued a warning to members of the South Eastern Education & Library Board (SEELB) that they must shoulder the responsibilities that come with Board membership.

Taking into consideration the significant increases in education spending over the past few years, the Minster said that there could be no excuse for delaying further decisions needed to make sure the Board lives within its budget.

Speaking earlier, Maria Eagle said: “Education spending in Northern Ireland stands at record levels with sizeable increases in funding. In the next two years alone we provided for an extra £130 million or an increase of 8.2% at a time when pupil numbers are falling. On top of this, I have already announced support from the Children and Young People’s package in the form of an additional £10 million being made available directly to schools this year and a further £10 million for extended schools. This Government’s commitment to education is clear – what we need now is local decision-making that ensures that children do not suffer.”

In March, the Board decided on a plan setting out how it would allocate its budget across its services however, since then, has failed to take the decisions necessary to give effect to that plan.

In a letter to the Chair of the Board, Rev Gary Haire, the Education Minister said that if the Board agrees a plan of action to allow it to deliver its statutory responsibilities within budget, it will be allowed to retain a sum of £1.18 million which was to have been repaid to her Department.

The Minister continued by saying that all public bodies are required to live within the resources allocated to them and the SEELB is no different.

She added that if the Board were to overspend again, the money would have to be found from other parts of the education budget and the Minister said that she was not prepared to let children in other Board areas suffer because of this Board’s refusal to take decisions.

Maria Eagle said: “Today I wrote to the Chair of that Board making clear my expectation that all Board members must discharge their responsibilities fully and take the decisions needed to ensure that the Board lives within its means. The Board proved itself able, in 2005/06, to live within budget and I expect it to do the same this year. Members must reach agreement at their July Board meeting on how they will deliver services within the budget provided. To do otherwise would be a dereliction of duty and would certainly not be in the best educational interests of children and young people.”

The Education Minister acknowledged that the Board had, for the first time in three years, kept within its agreed budget in 2005/06, and its accounts, which were submitted in mid-June, have in fact shown that it finished the year with £1.18 million unspent in its education services budget, which she is allowing the Board to carry forward to ease its financial position in 2006/07.

However, this is only on the condition that it shows that it is capable of taking the decisions necessary to deliver its services within budget.


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