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Investment for schools - tax for motorists

GORDON BROWN pledged yesterday to be the education Prime Minister when he reaches No 10, with a £36bn spending spree to make every school "fit for the 21st Century".

The Chancellor used his Pre-Budget Report - almost certainly his last before succeeding Tony Blair - to set out plans to match the spending on private school buildings by 2010.

Pledging to put better schools before tax cuts, Mr Brown said Britain under his leadership would be "the most educated nation in the world".

But the Chancellor was immediately accused of botching the other main theme of his statement - tackling global warming, following the apocalyptic warning of last month's Stern report.

He raised £1bn by doubling air passenger duty from £5 to £10 for most flights from February, a move condemned by budget airline Flybe as a "poll tax of the skies". But the rise was seen as too little to close the price gap that makes it cheaper to fly from the North to the South than travel by train.

Expected tax increases for gas- guzzling cars will not come before next year, and an immediate 1.25 pence-per-litre fuel duty rise - the first for three years - was only in line with inflation.

Tony Juniper, Friends of the Earth's director, said: "Instead of putting measures to tackle climate change at the heart of his Budget, Mr Brown continues to tinker in the margins."

However, Mr Brown set out bold plans to make every new home "zero carbon" by 2016, by making them exempt from stamp duty. A home would be zero carbon by generating energy - through solar panels and turbines - and selling it to the National Grid.

Another eye-catching announcement will give every mother-to-be a £17-per-week cash bonus, with child benefit paid out from the 29th week of pregnancy, from April 2009.

But the centrepiece of the speech was Mr Brown's pledge to make education his "number one priority", including free books for every child at five and 11. And every headteacher will benefit immediately, with direct payments rising in April from £39,000 to £50,000 for primaries, and from £150,000 to £200,000 for secondaries.

But, for the Tories, Shadow Chancellor George Osborne said people fighting to keep hospitals open or stuck on congested roads would be asking: "Where has all the money gone?"

And Vincent Cable, the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, said Mr Brown's legacy would be huge levels of personal debt, a failing education system and widening inequality.

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