HC Deb 11 December 1996 vol 287 cc268-70
7. Mr. Steen

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many local education authorities increased the amount spent on administration and reduced the amount spent on schools in the last year for which information is available. [7057]

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

In 1994–95, there were 14 such authorities. This year the Government have announced a further hefty increase—an extra £633 million—in provision for local education authorities. I urge all LEAs to deliver that spending power to schools and not to use it to fund bureaucracy.

Mr. Steen

Will the Minister confirm that next year Devon's county education budget will increase by over 3 per cent. and that that money will go to schools and not to administration? Will he say something to the misguided and wholly unacceptable banner-waving groups in my constituency who are crying, "Cuts in education." when everyone knows that Devon education has never had more money than it will have next year?

Mr. Squire

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I can confirm that the increase in Devon's education standard spending assessment is 3.8 per cent., which is above the national average. Of course—as he is aware, but as some of his constituents, misled by placard wavers, may not be aware—between 1979–80 and 1994–95 the Government increased funding per pupil by 48 per cent., after taking out all inflation. We have a proud record on funding. It is clear that Devon has the resources and I hope that it, and all LEAs, will devote a lion's share of the increases to schools rather than to town hall and county hall.

Mr. Jamieson

Will the Minister confirm that Devon is in the lowest 15 in Britain for spending on central administration and has a tine record? Perhaps he will also confirm, however, that the high spenders on central bureaucracy are Westminster [HON. MEMBERS: "Tory"], Wandsworth [HON. MEMBERS: "Tory"], Kensington and Chelsea [HoN. MEMBERS: "Tory"] and the City of London [HON. MEMBERS: "Tory"].

Mr. Squire

I was going to keep a shroud over the list of 14 authorities in the original question, but as the hon. Gentleman tempts me to name some of them, I can confirm that Sheffield, Camden and Durham are also in that list.

Sir Malcolm Thornton

My hon. Friend is aware of the success of the delegation of budgets to schools and we would all like the maximum amount of money to be transferred from LEAs to schools, consistent with the provision of those essential central services. Does he accept that, because of the tendency to enshrine historic expenditure in the local formula adopted by the vast majority of LEAs, anomalies have started to appear over time? Will he confirm that the Department is still working towards an evaluation of the need for a national formula for funding?

Mr. Squire

I can certainly confirm my hon. Friend's last point. We are taking careful account of the many representations that we received in the consultation earlier this year.

On what I judge to be my hon. Friend's central point about local management of schools schemes and the way in which local authorities distribute funding to schools, it is a good responsibility for LEAs to keep such things up to date and to take account of the points that my hon. Friend has made.

Mr. Don Foster

Does the Minister agree that a great deal of humbug is talked about the amount of money spent on administration in education? Will he confirm that the White Paper published in the summer shows that, on average, administration costs represent about 1.8 per cent. of the total cost per pupil? Will he further confirm that that figure is considerably less than the amount spent by his Department and the Funding Agency for Schools on administration in respect of pupils in grant-maintained schools?

While we are on the subject of humbug, does the Minister accept that his answer to the hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) was complete humbug? He tried to tell the House that the Government were making more money available for education, when the Red Book shows that the amount of money that central Government are providing to local government is being cut in real terms.

Mr. Squire

The hon. Gentleman has underlined why we invariably look to the Liberal Democrat Benches for classic humbug as opposed to occasional humbug.

On administration, I can give the hon. Gentleman a straight answer. What matters is how each and every local authority and central Government make efficiency savings year on year. Averages often disguise the truth. What matters is that all LEAs have the same commitment to delivering quality services. I repeat for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, who may not have heard me, that we are providing significant additional funding to schools this year and we expect it to be spent predominantly on the schools themselves.

Mr. Dunn

Given that Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled Kent county council is one of the worst offenders and spends a huge amount of money on administration, will my hon. Friend arrange for an official inquiry into the spending plans and policies of that county council to reduce that huge sum so that extra funds can be given to the county's schools? It is a nightmare for the people of Kent.

Mr. Squire

Obviously, I shall consider my hon. Friend's suggestion, but I know, from his long experience in education matters and his knowledge of the highways and byways, that he will continue to publicise the poor administration record of the Labour and Liberal Democrat-controlled Kent LEA.

Mr. Dafis

Have not schools shown strong resistance to any proposals to increase the compulsory percentage of money delegated to their budgets? Is that not why the proposal in the White Paper was withdrawn? Is it not time to introduce greater flexibility, as schools bear a heavy administrative burden and small schools in particular find it difficult to cope with heavy management responsibilities? Could that not be achieved through sensible county-wide negotiations between LEAs and federations of school governors?

Mr. Squire

First, let me confirm that the proposal in the summer White Paper has not been withdrawn. It does not feature in current legislation, precisely because there is a need for widespread consultation among schools and LEAs and because some of the figure work will be fairly complex. Secondly, I am quite prepared to believe that some schools do not wish to have a greater share of their budget devolved to them. However, in response to the central issue that the hon. Gentleman raises, the record of grant-maintained schools—which control 100 per cent. of their budgets—shows overwhelmingly that they achieve better value for money. I am confident that, if LEA schools controlled a greater share of their budget, they could do the same.

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