HC Deb 11 February 1999 vol 325 cc458-60
12. Mr. Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

What measures he is taking to ensure that education standard spending assessment fund increases for 1999–2000 are implemented by North Yorkshire county council education services. [68883]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Charles Clarke)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has written to North Yorkshire county council to make it clear that all the increase in the education standard spending assessment should be used to support education services, and especially the drive to raise school standards.

Mr. Quinn

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the children and parents of Scarborough and Whitby and the rest of North Yorkshire on persuading the county council's corporate affairs committee to heed the Secretary of State's letter? Will he accept an invitation to visit my constituency so that he can see the desperate need to increase standards and so that we may, in future, not only passport increases of 6.6 per cent. for school services in the county, but have regard for the special needs of the urban areas of North Yorkshire?

Mr. Clarke

Yes, I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating all the children and parents and the rest of the community who have persuaded the county council to carry the money through to education, as we intended. I would also be happy to visit my hon. Friend's constituency sometime in the future to see what has been done there.

I hope that we shall secure all-party support for the idea that money allocated to education should go to education. Perhaps Opposition Members will try to encourage their Conservative colleagues in Wiltshire, for example, to ensure that money intended for that purpose is spent on education. They should heed the example set by North Yorkshire.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

I obviously live in a different part of North Yorkshire, because I have seen the £12.9 million passported, despite opposition from the Tory Administration. There has been a 9.6 per cent. increase in council tax and we still find ourselves £2 million short—100 teachers will be sacked in North Yorkshire as a result of the Government's allegedly excellent settlement.

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) asked a question that has not been answered. A lot of money is being set aside for the standards fund and schools cannot set their budgets because the Government have not decided what sums they will allocate. I refer the Minister specifically to 12A funding and to 100 per cent. refunding of music, which would bring £700,000 to North Yorkshire. Those funds should be released immediately so that some certainty may be brought to schools' budgets from 1 April.

Mr. Clarke

On the hon. Gentleman's final point, we made announcements regarding music a few weeks ago along the lines that he has requested. I find it strange that, although almost every commentator has remarked on the very high SSA settlements that have been achieved this time, nothing is enough for the Liberal Democrats. They are not prepared to work with others effectively. However, I commend the Liberal Democrats, as my colleagues did earlier, on campaigning for more resources for education. That is fine. It is not enough to whinge and whinge; we must create and create. That is what the Government are trying to do.

Mr. Ben Bradshaw (Exeter)

Leading on from that reply, is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that, in the south-west, Liberal Democrats—

Madam Speaker

Order. The Minister is replying to questions about North Yorkshire so I tend to call hon. Members who represent that area. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Bradshaw) does not represent North Yorkshire, although he is quite entitled to speak about it. His question must be about North Yorkshire. I call Mr. Key.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

I am grateful, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

Try harder than the last Member.

Mr. Key

Is the Minister aware that North Yorkshire is not alone in that education authorities up and down the country view with great concern his Department's new policy, which suggests that local councillors no longer know best about what to spend, within SSA indicators, on which services? Far from being welcome, that doctrine has caused great disturbance among local councillors.

Madam Speaker

In North Yorkshire.

Mr. Key

The amount that North Yorkshire spends on its education services is best judged at local level by North Yorkshire's elected councillors.

Mr. Clarke

Characteristically, the hon. Gentleman completely misses the point: it is not about the rights of local councillors to take decisions, but about the judgments that they make. In his letter to North Yorkshire county council, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State urged the council to spend the money on education. I hope that Opposition Members will urge Conservative councillors to ensure that that happens.