HC Deb 25 April 1995 vol 258 cc649-51
8. Mr. Fisher

To ask the Secretary of State for Education when she last met local authority associations to discuss the funding of teachers' pay. [19175]

Mrs. Gillian Shephard

I discussed the funding of the 1995–96 school teachers' pay award at a meeting with representatives of the National Employers' Organisation for School Teachers on Monday 13 March.

Mr. Fisher

Does not the Secretary of State understand the frustration of teachers throughout the country at the Government's refusal to fund the teachers' pay review and at their phoney explanations for that refusal? She knows that surplus funds are not evenly distributed or available for that purpose. She knows that LEAs such as mine in Staffordshire have taken effective action to remove surplus places. She knows the damage that the refusal to fund the settlement will do in terms of larger class sizes, fewer resources and lower standards. Why does she not fund it? Is not the answer that her Government neither care nor want to fund the award?

Mrs. Shephard

We are spending record amounts on education. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the independent review body took into account the affordability of the teachers' pay award. It took into account the £700 million held in schools' balances, the £500 million held in local authority balances, the £250 million taken up by surplus places, the £500 million being spent on administrative and clerical posts that the Audit Commission said could be done without and, finally, the £1.2 billion in uncollected rates, community charge and council tax. All that confirms the independent review body's view that the pay award was affordable if local authorities identified their priorities—unlike Northumberland.

Mr. Dunn

Is the Secretary of State aware that on the day that Lib-Lab controlled Kent county council decided not to fund the teachers' pay settlement it had more than £150 million in reserve? The same county council spends £12,000 per week on conferences and hospitality and £10,000 per week on periodicals and magazines for officials and last year it underspent by £17 million. It is fast becoming one of the worst-run local education authorities in the western world.

Mrs. Shephard

My hon. Friend, as ever, gives a cogent illustration of the point that Conservative Members have been making consistently—poor old Kent.

Dr. Wright

Is the Secretary of State aware that 20 schools in my constituency will lose 18 teachers between them this year? Does she understand that she adds insult to injury by apologising for the meanness of this year's settlement, which does nothing to help schools? I relay to her a question put to me by the head teacher of one of those schools, which is due to lose three staff this year. He wrote to me this week and asked, "Will the Secretary of State please stop sending me expensive brochures about things I have to do when I do not even have the hooks and the teachers to do the basics?"

Mrs. Shephard

Perhaps I could offer the hon. Gentleman a question to relay to Staffordshire local authority, which I understand has about £68 million in reserve.

Mr. Haselhurst

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a significant difference between the number of teachers who might lose their posts and the number who need to lose their posts? When a school with a budget of £1.75 million must make a saving of £20,000 the obvious conclusion is not to make teachers redundant.

Mrs. Shephard

Teacher numbers fluctuate each year. There is a turnover in such a large work force of some 30,000 annually. I do not expect large numbers of redundancies this year. Last year we were told that there would be many redundancies, but in fact teacher numbers increased by 1,000. There may have to be some adjustments in some areas, but one would expect that in view of fluctuations in pupil numbers and other organisational changes.

Mr. Blunkett

Does the Secretary of State agree that her recent so-called charm offensive would have been a great deal more charming and a great deal less offensive if she had decided to provide the money for children in the coming year rather than salting it away for tax cuts next year?

Mrs. Shephard

The hon. Gentleman has been practising that point in his press release. Whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may decide about tax policy, firm control of public finances must be at the centre of successful economic policy. I do not think that that lesson has ever been learned by Labour Members.

Mr. Patrick Thompson

In any discussions that my right hon. Friend may have with local education authorities or others, will she continue to emphasise the damage that any strike or industrial action could do in our schools? Is she aware that the result of a massive vote was announced yesterday by the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses, which has decided to join with the no-strike Professional Association of Teachers? Is that not an important and welcome development?

Mrs. Shephard

I certainly think that the Professional Association of Teachers sets a marvellous professional example to its colleagues. I hope that other organisations will take the message that the number in the Professional Association of Teachers is being enhanced by so many. My hon. Friend, as always, makes a very useful point.