Nick Clegg has pledged to protect Yorkshire’s schools from any Whitehall cash-grab amid concern that efforts to give more support to rural areas could be hijacked to divert funding away from the North.
The Deputy Prime Minister said he “will not allow” the Conservatives to use the coalition’s ongoing review of schools funding to shift financial support in favour of the south of England.
Mr Clegg was speaking to the Yorkshire Post at the start of the Liberal Democrats’ annual spring conference, which got underway last night in York.
Today the party’s Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander will use his keynote speech to announce the Lib Dems’ first commitment for their 2015 election manifesto – to further raise the income tax threshold to £12,500.
The measure, widely anticipated following the coalition’s repeated raising of the threshold during the current Parliament, would deliver a further £500 tax cut to low and middle-income workers, and take thousands of people out of tax altogether.
Mr Alexander will make the move his party’s “top priority” in any future coalition negotiations, should voters deliver another hung Parliament in 2015.
Mr Clegg is not due to give his own keynote speech until tomorrow, but spoke exclusively to the Yorkshire Post yesterday as the conference at York’s Barbican Centre got underway.
The Sheffield Hallam MP said he now feels “vindicated” about the contentious decisions he made during his the first months in Government, and claimed “the history books will recognise” that he was right to go into coalition with the Tories.
His firm backing for the coalition comes despite another week of rows between the two governing parties, which continued yesterday as Business Secretary Vince Cable attacked David Cameron for “blighting” the economy with his pledge of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Behind the scenes, another potential cause of conflict is over the Government’s ongoing review of schools funding, with backbench Tories pushing to end the historic under-funding of many rural schools. That has led to Labour warnings that urban schools in deprived areas will inevitably lose out – and that funding will ultimately move from North to South.
But Mr Clegg said: “That is not going to happen. I won’t let that happen. It has got to be fair.”
The Deputy Prime Minister said he still expects measures to be brought forward to support the very worst-affected rural schools – but that the wholesale reforms envisaged could be scaled back.
“The problem is the moment you address one imbalance, you risk creating another,” he said.