A SCHEME for levering private sector cash into deprived schools in Herefordshire has been labelled an "embarrassing flop".

The area's Education Action Zone was intended to attract £250,000 a year in sponsorship from local firms.

But statistics obtained by the Liberal Democrats show it managed to pull in only £35,000 in 1999/2000 - the most recent year for which figures are available.

At the same time the EAZ, which received £750,000 from the Government, spent £130,000 on administration and management costs - 17 per cent of its total income.

However it did manage to attract £24,000 in "in-kind" donations from local businesses.

These were made up, for example, of managers visiting a school or discount tickets for a leisure attraction.

Nationally, the average amount of private money levered in by the 37 EAZs for which figures are available was £41,000.

Only five of the accounts - Oxford, Kingston upon Hull, Halifax, and north Southwark and Newham in London - met the sponsorship target.

Fifteen zones received no money at all from the private sector, although some were new schemes.

Phil Willis, the Lib Dem education spokesman, said: "Education action zones have become an embarrassing flop for the Government.

"Businesses haven't exactly rushed to become involved, donating on average £41,000 per zone - far short of the expected £250,000.

"It's time the Government realised that our schools need substantial extra investment across the board."

Earlier this month, Schools Minister Stephen Timms announced EAZs were to be phased out.

They are not to be continued beyond their initial five-year terms and will be "merged" with the excellence in cities scheme.

The former schools minister, Stephen Byers, described EAZs as "a fundamental challenge to the status quo," when they were launched in 1998.

But the former education secretary, David Blunkett, later admitted they were "overhyped".

Reports by Ofsted, the school inspectors, and by the Institute of Public Policy Research and the national audit office criticised the scheme.