HC Deb 11 September 2003 vol 410 cc467-9
15. Mr. Mark Simmonds (Boston and Skegness)

If he will make a statement on the working of the new funding allocation system for local education authorities. [128983]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

The new LEA funding system consists of a basic amount per pupil that is the same everywhere, plus top-ups for deprived pupils and for areas with higher recruitment and retention costs. We are working on the detailed proposals to restore stability to school funding for 2004–05 and 2005–06, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced to the House on 17 July.

Mr. Simmonds

What response would the Minister give to schools in my constituency and across Lincolnshire, which the LEA predicts are facing an estimated budget cut in this financial year of £2.133 million, based on the new funding formula? Further cuts are predicted in the 2004–05 financial year, affecting 29 out of 63 secondary schools in Lincolnshire. Will the Minister take this opportunity to assure my constituents, and teachers and students in Lincolnshire, that those funds will be returned and that school budgets will be increased next year? That would honour the commitments by the Secretary of State, and by the Minister for School Standards himself, that there will be no repetition of this year's funding problems?

Mr. Miliband

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that this year schools in his constituency are funded to the tune of £1,130 more per pupil than was the case six years ago. If individual schools face particular problems, I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would write to me to explain how those problems have arisen. The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to know that every LEA in the country has been contacted by the Department to help model the options for 2004–05 and 2005–06, to ensure that we have the continued growth in the teacher and support staff work force of which we are so proud.

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)

Will my hon. Friend say what has happened to the funding formula in the past six months? When it was first announced, the Conservative leadership of Cheshire county council praised the Government for the changes that they had made. Now, however, the council seems to be fundamentally critical of the changes. What has happened in the past six months?

Mr. Miliband

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government have not changed the funding formula in the past six months. The formula for this financial year is the one announced in the House in December.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Will the Minister agree to investigate the impact on the funding formula of the Greenwich judgment, which is resulting in higher cross-border pupil movements? The needs of those schools in my constituency that are largely populated by out-of-borough pupils are in no way reflected in the formula allocated to the borough.

Mr. Miliband

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious matter often raised with me by people representing constituencies in Nottingham and Nottinghamshire, where there are also cross-border pupil movements. I should be interested to hear any particular evidence from his constituency and from London that the hon. Gentleman may have. I have not seen evidence before that this has been a particular problem in London. The hon. Gentleman will know that the funding formula and the recommendations for teachers pay from the School Teachers Review Body treat different parts of London in different ways. I had not heard that the Greenwich judgment was having adverse consequences, but I should be very happy to look into the matter.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome)

Before the Minister repeats the figures that he gave to the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Flook) about Somerset funding, may I say that I accept that, empirically, we are doing better now than in the dark days of the previous Conservative Government? However, a differential does exist. Counties such as Somerset and other rural shires in the west country, as well as parts of the midlands, are doing extremely badly in comparison with other parts of the country. The difference in per-pupil funding is greater than what might reasonably be caused by differences in costs. Will the Minister look at the formula again to ensure that all children in all parts of the country have a basic entitlement to the money needed for their education?

Mr. Miliband

We are always pleased by the generous even-handedness of the Liberal Democrats. Our commitment is that similar pupils in different parts of the country should have similar amounts of money attached to them by central Government. That is the fair way to act. There is a basic entitlement for every pupil in the country. Every pupil who comes from a family living in poverty gets extra, and those in high-cost areas receive extra too. That funding formula is the right basis for the future, and the funds that go out are based on the nature of local populations around the country, which is the fairest way of distributing them.