Austerity-hit education – decisions in Westminster, consequences in Scotland!

Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By stewartb
Presently, the main public policy levers capable of altering substantially the nature of Scotland’s economy – and the nature of its tax base – reside with Westminster governments. By far the largest element of recurrent and capital spending by public bodies across the UK has been controlled by Tory politicians for over a decade.

Given the model of dependency on Westminster and its spending decisions – operated via the Barnett Formula – it is always relevant to reflect on authoritative accounts of trends in spending in England on those public services that are devolved. A spending decision may be for England – made by the party of UK government in what is perceived to be England’s best interest, presumably – but there are knock-on consequences. Big funding decisions made regarding English public services – for good or ill – impact on the overall budgets of the governments in Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

Spend on England’s education system
The Department for Education (DfE) is one of the big four spending departments in UK government, along with the Department for Health and Social Care, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for Work and Pensions. The House of Commons Library (HoCL) has just published a briefing on DfE spending which includes trend data going back at least c. 12 years. This is revealing in terms of UK government policy choices and the link to public expenditure.

Source: HoCL (1 July 2022) Department for Education Estimates Debate ( )

The DfE’s spend is dominated by grants for schools which currently make up c.£63 billion (88%) of the DfE’s Resource Departmental Limit (DEL) and around £3.6 billion (58%) of its Capital DEL. Other DfE spending supports Early Years, Children’s Services, Higher Education and Further Education plus other, more minor budget lines.

The HoCL briefing refers to an Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) 2021 annual education report which analysed the UK Government’s spending announcements to date. On school spending, it found: ‘School spending per pupil in England fell by 9% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2019–20. This represents the largest cut in over 40 years, but it came on the back of a significant increase in spending per pupil of over 60% during the 2000s.’

The IFS, whilst taking account of the 2021 Spending Review which includes an extra £4.4 billion for the schools budget in 2024–25, noted: ‘When combined with existing plans, we project that spending per pupil in 2024 will be at about the same level as in 2010. Whilst this will reverse past cuts, it will mean 15 years with no overall growth in spending. This squeeze on school resources is effectively without precedent in post-war UK history.’

The shift in spending priority under successive Tory governments from the Cameron-Clegg coalition onwards is striking! Which of these governments did Scotland’s electorate endorse? And here we have ‘without precedent’ decisions on something as important as schools funding taken by successive Tory governments that a majority of voters – but ONLY in England – have been content to support! In Scotland we have to …. ‘suck it up’?

The HoCL briefing exposes other choices the Tories have made regarding England’s schools, seemingly without detriment to their electoral support: ‘Deprived schools have seen larger cuts over the last decade. The most deprived secondary schools saw a 14% real-terms fall in spending per pupil between 2009–10 and 2019–20, compared with a 9% drop for the least deprived schools.’

Underinvestment in education recovery and resilience
On another factor impacting the education budget, you may recall the Westminster government’s much vaunted pandemic recovery funding for schools in England. You may also recall the reaction it received!

In May 2021, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) published a report on education recovery and resilience. This called for a three-year package amounting to £13.5 billion, to support a range of programmes for England’s schools. On 2 June 2021, the UK Government committed to provide a further £1.4 billion in education recovery funding, on top of the £1.7 billion already announced – taking the total to c.£3.1 billion over four academic years, including 2020/21, a huge shortfall relative to the EPI’s proposal.

On the day the funding was announced, Sir Kevan Collins resigned as Education Recovery Commissioner for England. While he welcomed the funding, he believed it to be wholly insufficient: he did “not believe it is credible that a successful recovery can be achieved with a programme of support of this size”. The EPI said the money amounted to “a fraction of the level of funding required to reverse learning loss seen by pupils since March 2020”.

All the above are facets of Tory austerity – experienced for more than a decade and now in the more immediate context of Covid recovery. All have direct, severe consequences for the budgets available to the devolved governments!

Adult skills and lifelong learning
The HoCL briefing also addresses DfE spend on adult learning. It refers to IFS’ research which found that spending in England on classroom-based adult education in 2019-20 was nearly two-thirds lower in real terms than in 2003–04 and about 50% lower than in 2009–10. It has fallen from £4.4 billion in 2003-04 (2021-22 prices) and to £2.9 billion in 2010-11 and to just under £1.5 billion in 2019-20. This trend is illustrated in the chart below. The fall in funding is said to be mainly driven by the removal of public funding from some (mainly lower level) courses and a resultant drop in learner numbers.

The number of adults in Further Education in England has been plummeting. Since 2011/12, the number of learners on classroom-based education and training has fallen by 48%, community learning by 64%, and even the number of adult apprenticeships has fallen by 4%.

The HoCL refers to research that explains these trends in adult learning on ‘a large and deliberate shift from classroom-based to apprenticeship training’. It also reports that whilst spending on apprenticeships increased by 50% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-20 to a total of £2.0 billion (2021-22 prices), spending on classroom-based adult education, apprenticeships and work-based learning in total still fell by 35% in real terms between 2009-10 and 2019-2021.

In an illustration of the stop-start instability of Tory policy positions, funding for classroom-based adult education is now projected to increase by 32% in real terms between 2019-20 and 2024-25. The increase for apprenticeships is slightly smaller at 29%. However, the HoCL paper notes that the total for the two streams of funding would still be around 15% below 2009-10 levels in real terms.

Remember this?
You will note the falls in funding and in participation in FE during the period 2010 to 2015, the term of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government. You may also recall around this time that the Lib Dems had further education in Scotland as their cause célèbre! This is from their leader, Willie Rennie in 2016 in an article in the Press and Journal:

‘Speaking at Aberdeen University’s The Hub, Mr Rennie said: “I want Scottish education to be the best in the world again. That means Scotland’s colleges need to be built back up to what they were before the SNP began butchering further education budgets”.’


Perhaps if the Lib Dems in coalition with the Tories had not been cutting back on the DfE’s budget for FE in England, the option to provide more funding for education in Scotland would have been available. Decisions made in Westminster – taken by governments we in Scotland reject – have consequences for Scotland!

10 thoughts on “Austerity-hit education – decisions in Westminster, consequences in Scotland!

  1. The ConDem cut Education funding £6Billion a year from 2015 to 2020. £30Billion. Libdem promised they would support education and reneged. Nick Clegg lied. Now taking £Millions at Facebook. Europe Facebook rep. More fraud and corruption.

    UK Gov has not increased funding in line with inflation and cost of living rises.

    The Scottish Gov had to mitigate the cuts and increase Education spending in Scotland. To support the pupils and students.

    The (unionists) councils muck up education education policies and try not to follow guidelines.

    Scotland has one of the best education systems in the world. The highest education population on all statistics. More unis and colleges in the world (pro rata)

    The Scottish education system would be even better without Westminster Gov gross interference in Scottish matters.


  2. The rich in power do not want people educated past the three R’s. An educated population are just trouble for far right wing regimes such as the one in London. There must be a graph somewhere showing what the priorities of the different governments in the UK are and what they spend the peoples’ money on.

    Tory manifesto. In work poverty, othering, reduction of and underfunding essential services, removal of human rights, out of work destitution and despair, the sheeple fighting amongst themselves, high streets with empty shops, communities destroyed, us and them, curtsy to your betters, high crime rates, foodbanks short of food, selling off the last few public services left, sewage ridden drinking water, all orchestrated by the lying scheming rich troughers taking from the public purse, in government, in London.

    Every time I hear the SNP or anyone else telling us how dreadful the cost of living crisis is, I just think, that’s totally perfect for those running the show, they love it! The UK is a cesspit of greed and rising inequality ruled by a corrupt cabal with dodgy pals in other corrupt regimes.

    I’m sick of the UK, it’s making people sick mentally and physically, Scotland has to get out of the backward UK before it’s too late to repair even more damage to Scotland.
    The SNP have made much progress, they should use some of the £20 million for independence campaign to design some posters showing the facts of Brexit, and one with the English cabal with both hands in Scotland’s pockets with a chain around the neck. It’ll take more than £20m to get the message drummed into peoples’ heids just what the alternative to independence will look like however.


    1. Interviewed today on Good Morning Scotland about Labour’s putative plans for the constitution, the party’s Scottish spokesperson was asked about the impact of Brexit on Scotland. She replied that many people in Scotland had voted for Brexit. When it was pointed out that a large MAJORITY in Scotland voted Remain, she simply said, ‘a lot of people voted for Brexit.’

      Can anyone tell me how democracy works?

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great piece of research stewartb.!

    BBC RS news bulletin at 8am extra funding for victims of thalidomide from The Government

    BBC RS news summary just after 8.30 am extra funding for victims of thalidomide from The Scottish Government


  4. Tax revenues raised in Scotland £66Billion++ Potential to raise £Billions more with self governance,

    Scotland gets £41Billion back (Block Grant – Education/Health welfare system).

    £15Billion pays for Scottish (UK) Gov pensions and benefits, (comes from Scottish revenues). £46Billion. The Westminster Gov has £10Billion++ of Scottish revenues to waste on poor, bad decisions that do not benefit Scotland.

    Scotland loses £3Billion in tax evasion, Scotland cannot borrow, to pay for growth which would benefit and cover the cost. £6Billion (10%).

    Scotland pays £1Billion too much on Defence – Trident and redundant weaponry. £Billions wasted on illegal wars, UK Gov fraud and tax evasion, Hickley Points, HS2 etc a total waste of monies which will always be subsidise with public money. Instead of spending the monies on the Scottish rail system. To save time and monies on travel and rail in Scotland. To improve journey’s and journey times, with better connectivity. The Scottish economy would grow and expand further. It would improve the economy in the North. Instead of always in London S/E. Heavily subsidised by Westminster on (Scottish) public monies.

    Over £13Billion+++ wasted a year to Westminster poor bad decisions which could be invested in Education/Health and welfare in Scotland to improve the economy and people’s lives. Scotland could manage better with Independence making it’s own better decisions. To improve and help people’s lives. Stop Westminster corruption to ruin people lives (worldwide).

    The UK the most unequal countries in the world with less rights for people and the electorate.


  5. O/T So Keir Starmer has decided: Labour in government in Westminster will not reverse Brexit. Nor will it seek to take the UK back into the European single market, nor the customs union, and will not reintroduce freedom of movement. All very clear. A product of ‘triangulation’ in pursuit of power?

    But did the focus groups and surveys to inform the triangulation extend into Scotland? Has British/English Labour, in order to win votes from British/English nationalists who voted Tory in 2019, just very publicly cut the link with Labour’s Westminster exclave in Edinburgh South?

    It’s a trivial task to find public statements from Ian Murray MP supporting of the EU and against Brexit. But arguably this one is a ‘belter’. Writing in his frequently chosen newspaper platform, the Edinburgh Evening News on 8 March 2018, he sets out his case against Brexit unambiguously, and does so based on harms to his local area and to his city .

    Headline: Ian Murray: Why Brexit will hit Edinburgh particularly hard – City’s reliance on the financial sector means it is more vulnerable, writes Labour MP Ian Murray.’


    Here are some of his choice remarks (with my emphasis) – apologies for length but its hard to leave out such ‘compelling’ views!


    ‘New research has revealed just how much it could cost the average worker in Edinburgh: £180 in 2020, rising swiftly to nearly £1,000-a-year in 2024. By the turn of the decade it could be over £2,000-a-year – AN ASTONISHING CUMULATIVE TOTAL OF AROUND £13,000 FOR EVERY WORKER IN THE CAPITAL.’


    ‘But BY ITSELF THIS DOESN’T PROTECT jobs and defend the hard-won rights for workers and consumers, such as sick pay and parental leave. Nor does it maintain the high environmental and safety standards we enjoy. IT’S THE EUROPEAN SINGLE MARKET THAT DOES THAT: the agreement between the 28 EU member states and members of the European Economic Area and others, which allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people.’

    ‘You don’t have to be a member of the EU to be a member of the SINGLE MARKET, AND MEMBERSHIP DOES NOT PREVENT US FROM IMPLEMENTING OUR MANIFESTO OR POLICIES. And it is the least worst option if we leave the EU.’

    ‘… I have set up a campaign group, SCOTTISH LABOUR FOR THE SINGLE MARKET. This is a grassroots campaign to promote the benefits of taking this option as we leave the EU. Scottish Labour has a proud tradition of democratic debate, and I know that WE WOULD ALL WELCOME OPEN DISCUSSION ON THE BIG ISSUES FACING OUR COUNTRY –’

    ‘ As the evidence of the cost of Brexit mounts up, WE ALL HAVE THE RIGHT TO KEEP AN OPEN MIND about whether it is the right choice for the UK. STAYING IN THE SINGLE MARKET – ALONG WITH THE CUSTOMS UNION – IS THE LEAST WORST OPTION if we are to leave the EU. LET’S TAKE IT AND PROTECT THE FUTURE PROSPERITY OF OUR COUNTRY.’

    Mr Murray could not have been clearer in this article. Did the voters of Edinburgh South believe him then: will they believe him now when he espouses Labour Party policy on Europe – or will he distance himself from British/English nationalist Labour’s policy? Will Edinburgh South remain content with exclave status?


  6. A UK Chancellor tax evading and abusing public money. An absolute crook. Breaking the Law and embezzling public monies. Setting tax for others. An absolute scandal. Independence will sort that out. Get rid of them to support Education/Healthcare and welfare in Scotland.


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