HC Deb 07 November 1995 vol 265 cc714-6
2. Mr. Robert Ainsworth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what representations she has received from local education authorities concerning the funding levels for schools in 1996–97. [40040]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Robin Squire)

Funding for schools is currently under consideration in the public expenditure survey. We have received a number of representations on levels of funding for 1996–97.

Mr. Ainsworth

The whole country knows that last year the Minister's policies deprived schools of £500 million, and led to the sacking of thousands of teachers. Does he intend to restore that money? If not, why not, and if so, why on earth was the action taken in the first place? Are we not in the same position? The Tory Government are cynically looking to cobble together a policy on a matter of public concern immediately before a general election.

Mr. Squire

As the House knows, I cannot comment on the detail of the public expenditure round for 1996–97; the hon. Gentleman and the House will have to be a little more patient and await its outcome. The hon. Gentleman has a short memory. I am pleased that, under this Government, we have significantly increased funding for education. Despite its fine words, when it was in power the Labour party cut education funding in real terms. Although the current year's settlement was tight, it was manageable, as has been shown by the fact that many local authorities have managed to fund in full the pay and price increases arising.

Mr. Viggers

Does my hon. Friend agree that for education establishments with a degree of independence—for example, St. Vincent college in my constituency, of which I happen to be chairman and which in the past two years has found funds for a splendid new library and refectory—hands-on management is good for facilities, for morale generally and for education standards?

Mr. Squire

My hon. Friend is right and I hope that the thrust of his point will be accepted on both sides of the Chamber because the success of local management of schools, of devolved budgets—we have already heard the advantages of grant-maintained schools—and the setting free of further education institutions has transformed those establishments and enabled them to achieve better value for money than under the previous system.

Mr. Don Foster

Will the Minister confirm that local authority associations have advised the Secretary of State for Education and Employment that, even before inflation and the future teachers' pay award is met, a £1.3 billion increase in local authority budgets is required to enable education provision to remain at a standstill? Will he confirm that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer announces a budget increase of less than £1.3 billion, there will be real cuts in the education service?

Mr. Squire

I suppose that was a nice try, but the hon. Gentleman must understand that it is unrealistic to expect full uprating, year in, year out, for full pay and prices for organisations such as local authorities, which spend hundreds of millions of pounds a year. We expect them and other organisations to make efficiency savings, and we did so this year. If he is saying, in so many words, that he expects full uprating year in, year out for all these things, he is saying that there is no scope for efficiency savings, and that is why his party promises to tax much more.

Sir Alan Haselhurst

Does my hon. Friend accept that there may be pressure next year on primary schools, especially where reserves have been used properly in the last year, and that growing concern exists about the discrepancy, which has arisen since the introduction of the national curriculum, between funding per pupil in the last year at primary school and funding in the first year at secondary school? Will he bear those points in mind in the forthcoming settlement?

Mr. Squire

I will certainly bear my hon. Friend's points in mind and I emphasise that the attention that the Select Committee on Education paid to this point was reciprocated by the Government.

Mr. Spearing

Does the Minister agree that salaries for teachers constitute about 60 to 65 per cent. of local authority education expenditure? If the Government persist in the injustice of not funding the increase that was agreed this year, and if there is no scope for efficiency savings—and there will not be, since authorities have suffered cuts in previous years—will not the Government fail to provide the means for the ends that they specify? Will he name a single Conservative-controlled authority that did not complain about the injustice of funding this year?

Mr. Squire

On the hon. Gentleman's first point, if I cannot comment yet on the outcome of the 1996–97 settlement, it follows that I can comment even less on the outcome of the independent standing review body for teachers, beyond observing that, as in all past years, it will reach its conclusions in the knowledge of the settlement that has been announced. As for representations, without some notice obviously I cannot confirm to him what the comments of individual local education authorities have been.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Has my hon. Friend received any representations from Cheshire county council about the resources allocated to the education authority under the standard spending assessment, with particular reference to the fact that the area cost adjustment does not adequately reflect the costs incurred by my county? That view is shared across all the political parties in the county. Will my hon. Friend respond positively to my inquiry?

Mr. Squire

I can confirm that representations have been received. I can also confirm—it would be ungallant not to—that my hon. Friend has been indefatigable in pursuing this point with me in correspondence. I am sure that he will be pleased to hear that recently my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration announced a full-scale review of the operation of the area cost adjustment and its impact within the standard spending assessment.

Ms Estelle Morris

Does the Minister realise how complacent those answers must seem to parents whose children are already in classes of over 40? As the Government are so keen on league tables, is not the Minister ashamed that his education cuts have put Britain at the bottom of the education spending league? Can he explain how he suddenly managed to find millions of pounds for assisted places and nursery voucher paperwork when he could not raise an extra penny for what parents really want—reduced class sizes?

Mr. Squire

The House will note that, not for the first time, Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen are taking their cue from the National Union of Teachers. The hon. Lady could not be more wrong. The independent inspectorate, Ofsted, has confirmed that standards are rising at all ages. That is what parents want. They want to know that their children have the chance of a better education than they might otherwise have enjoyed. That is happening under this Government, as independent reports suggest. As the hon. Lady is aware, and as we have said many times, education receives the highest priority from the Government.