HC Deb 08 February 2001 vol 362 cc1065-7
12. Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire)

What representations he has received on the implementation of the Bett report on pay in the higher education sector. [147917]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks)

My Department has received a number of representations on the Bett report. It is important to emphasise that the report is for employers and universities and not for the Government. The task of Government is to fund our university system adequately. As part of record funding, we have earmarked some funding for academic and non-academic pay at significant levels. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is currently consulting institutions representing bodies and unions on the personnel strategies that will underpin the allocation of funds.

Mr. Todd

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Does he agree that it would be helpful to urge employers in the higher education sector to commit themselves, now that they have the most generous settlement for many years, to the process of implementing the recommendations in the Bett report and resolving current disputes about higher education pay?

Mr. Wicks

We would certainly welcome anything that would prevent disputes, as we are concerned about the education of students. However, I am confident that the parties are now meeting and will resolve the matter. We obviously want our university academics to be paid well, and we must have regard to universities' performance and shortages in certain subject areas.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

The Minister may be aware of the current worsening industrial relations at Sheffield Hallam university resulting from actions arising in the dispute over implementation of the Bett report. I accept the Minister's point that detailed negotiations on pay are a matter for employers and employees, but does he have a message for the many staff at Sheffield Hallam university who have contacted me asking for the link to be made between the negotiations and the Government settlement for higher education? Does he also have a message for the employers at Sheffield Hallam university who have made precisely the same point, and said that any pay deal is utterly dependent on Government funding?

Mr. Wicks

The Department must resist the temptation to get involved in detailed negotiations, whether at Sheffield Hallam university or at any other college or university. Our task, which we have fulfilled, is to fund universities at record levels and offer funds specifically for pay in the university sector. We obviously wish to see any industrial relations problems resolved—although that is the task of the employers and the unions—for the benefit of staff and students.

Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood)

Although I acknowledge and welcome the Government's substantial increase in funding for higher education, with specific allocations for increased pay, does my hon. Friend accept that staff do not believe that university employers have been negotiating according to the terms of the Bett report? Will he ensure that the Government's provision for increased pay will result in a general increase in pay throughout the university sector?

Mr. Wicks

I understand those concerns. This coming year alone, we are giving an extra £412 million to the university sector. That is our task as Government—not to negotiate on behalf of employers or trade unions. The future of our university sector depends on decent and fair funding, which must be the object of negotiations.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

The Minister talked about the increased resources available to universities, which are welcome. He also talked about the quality of staff. Is he convinced that the available resources enable universities to employ quality staff, especially in the sciences? In addition, does he believe that sufficient students are going to university to study the sciences which, of course, was the subject of the earlier question tabled by the hon. Member for Stevenage (Barbara Follett)?

Mr. Wicks

We certainly need to encourage more young men and women to study sciences and other disciplines crucial to our economy. We tackle that in a wide variety of ways: through our schools, the modernisation of careers services and the new Connexions service. Total departmental funding for the higher education sector will be £5.8 billion this coming financial year, rising to £6.1 billion the year after and £6.4 billion in 2003–04. Unlike the previous Administration, we are providing resources for universities. It is for the universities themselves to determine the sensitivities of pay structure.