An ex-Treasury minister has accused the government of making “misleading” claims that it was giving new money to northern schools as part of its Northern Powerhouse project.
Lord Jim O’Neill - vice chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership - claimed the government had failed to create a fund to support its £70m Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy, which was announced in former chancellor George Osborne’s final budget in 2016.
Instead, national education funds are being ‘rebranded’ to meet this pledge, he wrote in a letter to Tory MP Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons education committee.
O’Neill - who was the first minister to resign after Theresa May came to power - said the government was going “against the spirit” of Northern Powerhouse education funding by using it for northern elements of national schemes.
“The Northern Powerhouse education fund should, in my opinion, be used to target the specific issues faced in the north,” he wrote.
A report from Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield published earlier this year revealed that children in the north of England are finishing school with poorer grades and are less likely to go on to further education.
O’Neill added that he was sick of the “constant efforts of some to in essence ‘play the game of the Northern Powerhouse’ rather than pursuing anything of substance”.
“I hope that in education, we can now turn a corner under the leadership of the Secretary of State, following the direction set by the select committee.”
The scathing letter was written on the same day that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet travelled to the north east in a bid to prove the government is listening to the nation beyond London.
Labour MP Lucy Powell, who sits on the education committee, echoed O’Neill’s claims, accusing ministers of “trying to pass off general education spend that happens to be in the north as the Northern Powerhouse Education Fund”.
“This fund was established to address the very particular educational challenges in the north which sees many more children from disadvantaged backgrounds failed by the system than elsewhere,” she said.
“The fund wasn’t a lot of money so you’d think it wouldn’t be difficult to find decent, dedicated northern programmes to spend it on.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are committed to driving up school standards in the north and, the fact is, through the Northern Powerhouse Schools Strategy we are investing £70 million in projects across the region to do just this.
“This includes projects to improve maths and English teaching, support schools that struggle with recruitment and retention and boost children’s language and social skills in the early years – all of which will have a direct impact on families and children in the north of England.”