Article from the Oct 2004 edition, Socialist Voice


For a one day public sector strike

TWO EDUCATION Boards face the prospect of major cuts which, if implemented, would particularly affect services for special needs pupils. The Belfast and South Eastern Boards have overspent on the budget set by the Department of Education and the Department is demanding that this overspend be recouped by drastically cutting back on services.

By a NIPSA member

In the case of the South Eastern Board, the claimed overspend for 2003-4 was 5.7 million and the projected overspend for this year is in the region of 5 million.

There is no way that cuts of this character could be made without drastically affecting services. If the Department were to have its pound of flesh, school kitchens would close, school crossing patrol services would go and classroom assistants would face a cut in hours.

Providing transport and other services for pupils with special needs can be expensive but it is an essential part of our education service. The Department is insisting that the Boards penalise the most vulnerable who rely on the special transport and other facilities that the Boards provide.

It is true that there are areas where money could be saved, but these are not the areas where the Department and the Boards have been looking. The money wasted on private consultants drawing up plans for the privatisation of schools or on various Private Finance Initiative schemes should have gone to services.

The one cut the unions can support would be to cut the privateers who want to profit from education out of the service entirely.

However the overspend is not due to money being wasted or misspent. It is due to the fact that the Boards have been set impossibly tight budgets. The government legislates for certain standards in education provision. If they don't allocate enough funds for the services they require, they leave the Boards with the choice either of overspending or of failing to provide a proper service.

The NIPSA and UNISON branches in the South Eastern Board have conducted a vigorous campaign in opposition to any cuts. As well as protests and lobbies preparation has been made for industrial action, especially if redundancy threats are implemented.

Under this pressure the Board, at its 30 September meeting, agreed to the union demand to carry on with the provision of services rather than introduce impossible cuts, in effect to set an illegal budget.

The unions in the Belfast Board need to apply similar pressure on the Belfast Board to do the same.

Pressure should then be stepped up on the Department, with protests and with industrial action if necessary, in order to come up with money that is needed.

There is no question that the money is there. Last year government departments underspent to the tune of 140 million. This money went back to the Treasury. If it was returned to Northern Ireland, it could be used to make up the shortfall in education and other funding.

The attack on education is part and parcel of the overall attack on public services. Public service unions need to respond by supporting the call by the main civil service union in Britain, the PCS, for a one day strike of all public sector workers.

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