HC Deb 12 March 1991 vol 187 cc802-3
13. Mr. Bradley

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he has taken to ensure that standard spending assessment levels will enable local education authorities to meet their obligations under the Education Reform Act 1988.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Standard spending assessments for next year have been set at a level which will enable any well-managed local education authority to meet all its obligations under the Act.

The impact of the Act was one of the factors that the Government took into account in deciding to increase the education standard spending assessments for 1991–92 by 16 per cent. over this year's settlement. In addition, £270 million within the 1991–92 programme of grants for education support and training is targeted on getting the reforms successfully into place.

Mr. Bradley

Following that incredibly complacent answer, will the Secretary of State give Manchester schools a further guarantee that they can spend all the money that they require for books and equipment from their standard spending assessment, so that all the science and technology demands of the national curriculum can be met?

Mr. Clarke

The answer that the hon. Gentleman has described as complacent referred to a standard spending assessment more than 10 per cent. above next year's likely level of inflation, as well as specific grant of £270 million, which includes provision for extra books and information technology. Even Manchester borough council should be capable of delivering a well-run service, and living up to the requirements of the education reforms, within such sums.

Dr. Hampson

Local authorities and bodies such as the Association of Metropolitan Authorities claim that transferring education expenditure to central Government represents a denial of democracy and would create a vast army of bureaucracy. Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind that, until 1958, there were Exchequer percentage grants limited to education?

Mr. Clarke

I shall certainly remind the bodies that my hon. Friend has mentioned of that fact. I shall also bear in mind that, throughout most of today's Question Time, hon. Members on both sides of the House have been protesting about decisions made by their local education authorities in the name of—among other things—local democracy.

Mr. Straw

Would not the Secretary of State have a rather more accurate view of the reality of spending in schools if he had been able to visit a single local authority school during his first three months in office? How can he come out with such bogus figures, when at least one third of all spending on books and equipment comes not from central Government but from parents?

If the figures are as good as the Secretary of State suggests, why is one Conservative authority after another now facing serious cuts in its education budget? Kent faces a cut of £1.9 million, and its entire careers service is being axed; Hampshire faces a cut of nearly £7 million, with a cut of £1 million in school cleaning and meals services, and 30,000 people will be deprived of adult education.

Mr. Clarke

The hon. Gentleman is clearly in considerable difficulties when he reduces exchanges about school resources to arguments about when I first visited a local authority-maintained school. I was appointed shortly before the Christmas holidays, but my familiarity with schools is as good as the hon. Gentleman's, and my familiarity with the increased spending for which we are providing next year is much better than his. He sees no distinction between increased efficiency and the removal of costs. Next year's 16 per cent. increase will allow any well-run authority, whatever its political persuasion, to provide our children with good-quality education.