HC Deb 08 May 1990 vol 172 cc7-8
9. Mr. Anthony Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress has been made as regards the establishment of city technology colleges.

Mr. MacGregor

The city technology colleges programme continues to make excellent progress. Three colleges are up and running and a further nine are due to open in 1990 and 1991.

Mr. Coombs

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the three CTCs in operation so far have emphatically shown their ability to raise standards, particularly in vocational education, to ensure that local companies continually take an interest in their curriculum, and, possibly most important, to increase the motivation of their pupils and those in surrounding schools? Does he agree that the most obvious demonstration of their popularity is their popularity with parents, and that significant proof of that is at Kingshurst where this year there are no fewer than 730 applications for 150 places, which is a record?

Mr. MacGregor

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend who has put many of the points in favour of the CTCs. I join him in underlining the importance of parents' attitudes towards the CTCs. The applications are well up on the number of places available. In addition, the colleges are clearly attracting other sponsors. Kingshurst, which my hon. Friend mentioned, had two original industrial sponsors and now has 70. That is very good progress.

Mr. Flannery

Why does not the Minister admit that the original plan for city technology colleges has totally collapsed? Does he remember the promises that private industry would finance those colleges? The withdrawal of funds—our funds—from Brighton city technology college is the latest failure. City technology colleges mean that in Nottingham where about £9 million is needed for schools, about £6 million goes to the city technology college and all the other schools—hundreds of them—have to make do with the other £3 million.

Mr. MacGregor

I shall take just one or two of those points. It is absolutely not the case that the CTC programme is a failure—quite the reverse. I have said that 12 will be in operation before long. The programme is also attracting considerable industrial sponsorship—more than £40 million. It is new money and, therefore, apart from all its education advantages, it should be seen as part of the inner urban programme, and in that context it is very successful in raising education standards. In Brighton, the only reason I took the decision that I did was that it became clear that the pledge of the original sponsors could not be fulfilled and we would not get a private sponsorship.

Mr. Pawsey

May I ask my right hon. Friend to disregard the rantings of the Opposition? They are full of sound and fury and signify very little. The comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) are nothing more than nit picking. Conservative Members are most anxious to see the policy and programme for city technology colleges advanced far more strongly and far more quickly.

Mr. MacGregor

I agree with my hon. Friend. The Opposition dislike popular schemes conceived by the Conservative party and our schemes are popular. I should also like to move faster. The difficulty sometimes is in putting together sponsors and sites, and getting through the problems of planning permission and building. Those are the main difficulties. I have already given the number of colleges that we have in the pipeline and I hope that there will be others before long.

Mr. Straw

Is not the truth of the city technology programme that financial controls have been so inadequate that Ministers and donors have been able to play fast and loose with public funds? Will the Secretary of State explain how the CTC trust was allowed to authorise a potential donor to the Brighton CTC, Mr. Ivor Revere, to become the front man in the purchase of the land for the CTC for the Catholic diocese in Brighton so that he could hoodwink the diocese into believing that the land was to be used for housing rather than for a school? How was Mr. Revere able to filch £200,000 from public funds as a secret commission on that land deal? Why did that secret commission go undetected for three months until December? Why, above all, did the Secretary of State, well knowing by 8 December the fact of that secret commission, refuse to volunteer the information to Parliament? Why did we have to wait for four months for that information to be wrung out of him?

Mr. MacGregor

A great deal is wrong in all those questions. First, the site was purchased for a CTC and that was clear. Secondly, as soon as it became clear to my Department that commission had been paid, we acted. It was discovered through a normal routine check, we acted immediately and the money was repaid immediately. I made the announcement to Parliament when I was asked, in the normal way. There has been no concealment. A whole series of financial transactions go on every day in government. The key point is that the moment we discovered that money had been paid on commission—and we did not think it should have been—we got it back.