HC Deb 05 July 2001 vol 371 c395
13. Mr. Anthony Steen (Totnes)

What assessment she has made of the need to build new schools in Devon in the next five years. [882]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (John Healey)

It is not for the Government to dictate how schools are organised locally. It is the duty of local education authorities to ensure that there are sufficient school places. We believe that decisions on the organisation of school places are best taken at that local level, with the knowledge of local needs.

Mr. Steen

First, may I congratulate the Minister on getting where he is? However, he can do better than that answer. Is he aware that secondary school children in my constituency are being bussed 40 miles a day? They are spending three to four hours a day in a bus because there are not sufficient school places near their homes. That is not acceptable to anyone. With 90,000 new homes being built in Devon, there will be even more bussing, which is expensive. We cannot have a bussing society such as exists in the United States. What is the Minister going to do to ensure that new schools are built before the new homes? There is no shortage of money, according to the Government. We need a system that ensures that new schools and infrastructure are in place before the new houses are built and people are allowed to live in them.

John Healey

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments, but I urge him to take this matter up with the Devon local education authority, whose school plan predicts a shortfall of secondary school places of about 2,000 by 2003–04. However, I repeat that it is not for Whitehall to work out where those school places should be provided, and I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman would want that. We can—and will—contribute to the funding for those new school places, as we have done since the last election. In that time, Devon LEA has received more than £96 million in capital funding.