§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Bob Dunn)
My right hon. Friend has received no major representations on this subject. The repair and maintenance of school buildings is raised from time to time in correspondence from hon. Members and from members of the public.
§ Mr. Park
Is the Minister aware that an Audit Commission study in 1985 showed that Coventry education department was underspending, because of financial constraints, by £1 million a year, which is about 100 per cent., and that as a result the schools in Coventry are in urgent need of repair and renewal? What does the Minister propose to do about that?
§ Mr. Dunn
I congratulate Labour Members on their interest in this matter. As they know, the condition of school stock has been arrived at over 20 years of benign, and sometimes malign, neglect. Labour Members have to take their share of the responsibility. I remind the House that the Labour party was in power for 11 out of the past 22 years. When it admits its share of the blame, we shall start to listen to its points.
§ Mr. Pike
Will the Minister nevertheless accept that the Conservative party is now in office, and that there is a problem? The Secretary of State recently visited Lancashire and is aware of the problems there, and of the fact that much money is needed to put the schools in good order. What will the Government's response be? Will they help or will they continue to sit aside and let the situation deteriorate?
§ Mr. Dunn
On the hon. Gentleman's first question, the Conservative party is in power, and we shall be for the next 20 years at least. Secondly, local education authorities are constantly telling us that one of their priorities is to spend more on the repair and maintenance of education buildings. The planned increase of 18.8 per cent. in cash in 1987–88 over 1986–87 plans provides for them to meet this and other priorities.
§ Mr. Lawler
Does the Audit Commission report not show that the problem is not one of cash leaving the 753 Government, but rather where it is going, and that £700 million is being wasted by local authorities on maintaining surplus places? Will my hon. Friend assure us that strong steps will be taken to force local authorities to take speedy action so that areas such as my constituency, where there is a fairly unusual problem of rising rolls, can have money allocated to them so that they can repair buildings?
§ Mr. Lord
Does my hon. Friend agree that in the problem of the costs of repairing school buildings, as in many other problems, a trouble shared is a trouble halved? Is he aware that in my constituency, in the village of Mendlesham, we have just built a brand new school, funded jointly by the community and the local education authority, which is to be used for both educational and community purposes? Does he not warmly welcome this exciting new project?
§ Mr. Madden
I was staggered to hear the Minister say that he had not received any major representations about the condition of schools. Does he not recollect being in Bradford recently, when he expressed concern about crumbling schools in that city? Does he not recognise that the ratepayers of Bradford are becoming heartily sick of Education Ministers coming to the city, drinking ratepayers' tea and giving very little in return except expressions of concern?
§ Mr. Sayeed
As the Audit Commission has clearly shown that local authorities are often inefficient in applying funds to schools, will the Minister issue guidelines to local authorities enouraging an extension of the Cambridgeshire scheme, which permits heads to exercise control over money spent on their schools?
§ Mr. Radice
The Minister must be well aware that the Audit Commission and HMI have warned the Secretary of State about the "crummy" state of our schools. [Interruption.] I was quoting from the former Secretary of State's verdict on our schools. Will the Minister now tell parents what the Government will do about it?