HC Deb 14 March 1978 vol 946 cc202-4
5. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action she proposes to take following the recent discretionary awards survey.

Mr. Oakes

The report on the survey was published on 1st February. My Department is seeking the views of the local authority associations and other interested bodies. The aim of my right hon. Friend is to encourage authorities to consider each case carefully and to be as generous as possible both in their policies and in rates and conditions of grant.

Mr. Hannam

Does the Minister accept that the report has confirmed that the sharp decline in the number of discretionary awards given by local authorities comes at a time of a 6 per cent. increase in the number of 16-to-19-year-old students? At a time when the Department of Employment is pouring money into short-term courses for students, greater emphasis should be placed on the provision of these longer-term courses in such subjects as law, accountancy and the arts. When will the Government accept full responsibility for making these grants mandatory?

Mr. Oakes

I accept the hon. Gentleman's figures. I will give them. Two thousand fewer discretionary grants were given and on a population basis a further 5,000 ought to have been given, so there is a net deficiency of 7,000. We are discussing this with the local education authority associations. I am particularly concerned with the aspect mentioned by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) concerning discretionary grants for the arts, especially for performers in the arts.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Does my hon. Friend need any further discussion in this matter, since it has become perfectly obvious that substantial numbers of children and young people are not receiving education because of the way in which discretionary grants are being used?

Mr. Oakes

I must explain to my hon. Friend that discretionary grants are controlled not by my Department but by the local education authorities. We can give encouragement, but we can do no more.

Mr. Beith

Did not the survey also reveal that the value of grants to the individual had fallen badly behind with the vast majority of authorities, and does this not make it clear that the local authorities are presenting to Parliament a frighteningly strong case for having the matter taken out of their hands?

Mr. Oakes

I am very much concerned that many "full value" awards are at lower rates than those which applied to mandatory awards, and I hope to explore this situation with the local authorities.

Mr. Hardy

Is it not the case that many local authorities are completely ignoring the detailed content of the rate support grant settlement and are denying grants? Is my hon. Friend aware that they are then seeking to place the blame on the Government, who have provided the money for a large number of grants to be made available?

Mr. Oakes

Yes, we provide money in the rate support grant, and we topped that up by another £1.8 million in the autumn. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that all local authorities are ignoring discretionary awards. Some autho rities are good and some are bad, but we shall be discussing these matters with the local authority associations, which are aware of the gravity of the problem.

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