CAMPAIGN: Lobbying - Barnet push for rethink on school funds

Client: Barnet Council PR Team: In-house Campaign: School funding Timescale: March 2003 - ongoing Budget: within in-house budget

When the Government released the 2003/2004 funding for schools, Barnet Council was left with an £8m budget shortfall, despite a substantial increase in council tax. The Government alleged the council was to blame for not passing on the full amount of funding to schools. However, the council claimed the gap was a result of the Government's failure to take into account several factors, including an increase in teachers' pension contributions and employers' National Insurance contributions.

As schools would soon run out of money to pay teacher's salaries and buy necessary equipment, Barnet council decided to launch a campaign to draw attention to the problem.

Objectives

To raise awareness about the school-funding crisis. To lobby for more school-funding for the north-London council.

Strategy and Plan

The council kicked off the campaign with a march of 170 teachers, school governors and council cabinet members to present a 20,000-signature petition to Downing Street.

The council then drafted in independent financial consultant Rita Hale to scrutinise all its budget decisions, to verify it had passed on all available government funding to schools. Hale's report, which confirmed Barnet did not withhold money and had fared badly from Government funding, was released at a press conference on 16 May. Education Secretary Charles Clarke and Schools Minister Stephen Twigg were invited to attend the press conference but declined.

The report was also emailed to the Prime Minister and Clarke, as well as to senior officers at the Department for Education and Skills (DfES), chief executives of all London councils and the Association of London Government.

Measurement and Evaluation

TV coverage of the march included Sky News and GMTV, while Hale's report received national coverage in The Times and The Guardian, as well as throughout the local government and public sector trade press, including the Municipal Journal (MJ) and the Times Educational Supplement.

The story received more national coverage on the day after the press conference, including GMTV, London Tonight, BBC News, LBC Radio and Radio 4's Today programme.

Results

Within 24 hours of the press conference, the DfES was looking into Barnet Council's request for more funding.

Since the campaign, Twigg has admitted the Government blundered over the funding crisis, and has written to Barnet, exonerating the council of holding back school funds.

In July, Clarke promised an extra £800m for all UK schools next year. The funding will be taken from the Government's cash reserves.

MJ reporter Heather Jamison said the council did a good job vocalising the funding problem. 'Barnet put forward a strong case by hiring an independent researcher,' she said.

The campaign continues to ensure that Barnet receives a fair settlement in 2004/2005.

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