Article from the Nov 2004 edition, the Socialist
Funding crisis - NO cuts in services
EDUCATION IN Northern Ireland is in crisis. The supposed "overspend" of the Belfast and the South Eastern Education and Library Boards has been headline news. Now there are signs that the problem is spreading to the other three Boards.
By Padraig Mulholland
NIPSA General Council member (personal capacity)
New Labour Minister Barry Gardiner has attempted to put the problem down to mismanagement but the reality is that, while mismanagement is a factor, the main difficulty is not overspending but chronic underfunding.
The government has the cash to properly fund education and other public services. Over the last two years the Department of Education, which funds the Boards, returned £50 million unspent to Gordon Brown.
In the South Eastern Board, management have put forward a package of draconian cuts that includes taking free bus passes away from some children, no new library books in schools, slashing the budget for substitute teachers, which will probably mean pupils being sent home, and cancelling all spending on the upkeep of school buildings.
The Belfast Board is considering even more drastic action including cuts in numbers of classroom assistants.
Even with these cuts, it is questionable whether the Boards can live within their budgets this year and there is no doubt that they will not be able to do so next year.
The response by the unions in education has varied between Boards and unions. In the Belfast Board the main non teaching unions, UNISON and NIPSA attempted to cobble together a deal behind the scenes which would have meant limited job cuts, but this came apart with the suspension of the Chief Executive.
In the SEELB the main non teaching unions came out fighting and have succeeded in getting a commitment from management that although the cuts proposed are real and serious there will be no redundancies, no long term service cuts and no cuts in terms and conditions of staff though the unions remain concerned that management will break their commitments.
The issue for the unions now is the development of a strategy that will force the government to release additional funding. The unions must unite, bringing together the tens of thousands of education workers in Northern Ireland, linking with parents and pupils to take on the government.
Build for a one day public sector strike!
It is not just Education that faces a funding crisis. Belfast City Hospital has announced a £4.5 million deficit and is proposing ward closures, staff cuts and cuts in services, possibly including some cancer surgery.
Public sector unions in Northern Ireland should take up the call made by the civil service union, PCS, in Britain for a one day public service strike. This should be part of a campaign against job cuts and privatisation and for public services that are properly funded and democratically run.