HC Deb 13 March 2003 vol 401 cc417-9
6. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

What steps he is taking to improve school buildings. [102704]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

Since 1997 almost £10 billion has been made available to meet priority building needs in schools. The Government have recently set themselves the aim of ensuring that secondary education facilities in every part of England are rebuilt and renewed to 21st century standards, while we continue to improve the quality of provision in primary schools. My written statement to the House on 26 February outlined a new approach to achieve that goal, starting with £5.1 billion available in 2005–06. We are now consulting widely on those proposals.

Syd Rapson

I thank the Minister for his informative answer. Will he lend his support to the Paulsgrove and Wymering learning community project, which has replaced five elderly schools with one new multi-million-pound state-of-the-art facility that will enable the whole community to benefit from education, not just the children at school?

Mr. Miliband

I think that I am right in saying that I met some of the parents, teachers and pupils from the Paulsgrove area when they came to the Jubilee Room to make a fascinating presentation about their education project. I am extremely tempted to make a friend of my hon. Friend by promising my support for his application to the private finance initiative round currently under way—but I fear that if I do, I will also make a large number of enemies. However, I promise that the application from Paulsgrove and Wymering will be taken seriously, as will all the applications for the current round of PFI funding.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

I acknowledge the fact that schools' capital funding is better now than it was during the deplorable previous 20 years. However, there is a still a huge backlog of work; across the country there are more than 20,000 temporary classrooms which should be replaced. When will we see a scale of funding that acknowledges that problem and establishes an organised replacement programme for temporary classrooms throughout the education system?

Mr. Miliband

The hon. Gentleman was on firm ground with the first half of his question, and I agree that there have been major steps forward. He should know that this year about £3 billion is being allocated to capital improvement, but by 2005–06 it will be £5.1 billion, which is a major improvement by any measure. He is of course right that too many schools are in need of major investment—an investment to which we are committed. The plans that we announced a couple of weeks ago set out a bold vision for education investment on the capital side, and I think that the hon. Gentleman will see the benefits in his constituency, as we all will all over the country.

John Mann (Bassetlaw)

One of the most remarkable achievements of the past five years is the way in which primary school results in coalfield communities have been catching up with those in the rest of the country for the first time ever. On the allocation of resources, so that we can finish the job in secondary schools, will the Government take due notice of the fact that we have an over-representation of clapped-out buildings? Give us the buildings and tools, and we will finish the job at secondary level.

Mr. Miliband

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his commitment to education and social renewal in coalfield areas. I think that I am right in saying that we may discuss the issue later this Question Time, and I look forward to that. I can assure my hon. Friend that his commitment is recognised and that the bids that are in at the moment will be taken seriously.

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton)

How can schools in West Sussex continue to maintain their school buildings when, as a result of the second lowest increase in central Government funding and a 22 per cent. reduction in the school standards fund, they face a cut in funding of between £40 and£55 per pupil? Is it the Government's policy that West Sussex should be socially excluded from the Prime Minister's commitment to education?

Mr. Miliband

It is very unwise of the hon. Gentleman to start talking about cuts in education when his own Front-Bench spokesman on Treasury affairs has committed his party to a 20 per cent. cut in Government funding for public services. He is unwise to venture into that area. I urge him to be extremely cautious about bandying around figures for cuts when every authority in the country was guaranteed an increase of at least 3.2 per cent. per pupil in the education funding settlement announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and the Regions in December.

Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)

My hon. Friend is on record as saying that if children are to attain the best possible educational standards they need to be taught in modern school buildings. The children in my constituency are being taught in some of the worst buildings in the country, and teachers are working hard to try to improve standards. When will my hon. Friend attend to the appeal made on behalf of the local education authority, governors and teachers, and myself as MP for Normanton, to ensure that we get the buildings that children are entitled to if they are to receive the best possible education?

Mr. Miliband

My hon. Friend has been pressing the case for Normanton schools with real passion. Previously, he has put a similar question to my hon. Friend the junior Minister—[Laughter.] I mean my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), who was doing such an able job earlier in allocating responsibilities. However, I assure my hon. Friend that the commitment that he seeks for his constituency is shared by the Government. We hope to come forward with our response in the not—too—distant future.

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