HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc1551-2
3. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab)

What recent representations he has received about the level of funding available to Leicestershire primary schools in 2004–05; and if he will make a statement. [154512]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

We have received few recent representations about funding for primary schools in Leicestershire for 2004–05. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's proposals to restore stability and certainty to school funding include an increase in all authorities' school formula spending share of at least 5 per cent. per pupil next year—that is what Leicestershire will receive. In addition, Leicestershire will receive £3.7 million of transitional grant, which must be used to help schools in specific financial difficulties to balance their budgets by 2006–07.

David Taylor

The quality of education in Leicestershire primary schools has been transformed by extra Government investment since 1997, but can the Minister understand local frustration that the higher standards, improved buildings and the provision of more and better paid staff are significantly constrained by a grant settlement that leaves us the least well funded local education authority in the land? We are 7.5 per cent. behind the average shire county, and the position is worsening. Will my hon. Friend meet local Members of Parliament to discuss our anomalous position and review the Leicestershire internal distribution formula?

Mr. Miliband

My hon. Friend has been a doughty and effective campaigner for extra funding for Leicestershire. He recently attended an Adjournment debate with my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), when we discussed the specific needs in Leicestershire, which is, overall, a prosperous county, but has particular areas of need. Of course I will meet him and other Leicestershire Members of Parliament who are worried about the matter. However, I am glad that he acknowledges the increased funding and the base for moving forward.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con)

I am sorry to tell the Minister that, notwithstanding the assurances that the Secretary of State gave last summer, Leicestershire's problems have not gone away. Local headlines read, "Schools in cash crisis". Primary schools in Leicestershire are funded £4,000 per pupil less than the best-funded authority. If that is untrue, the Minister should take it up with the Leicester Mercury. Is it the case that schools that balanced their budgets through all the problems last year will not receive any transitional funding? That means that schools that managed to balance their budgets on the promise of more cake this year now have to lay off staff.

Mr. Miliband

The hon. Gentleman was doing well until he asked me to compare Leicestershire with the Isles of Scilly, which leads to the figure of £4,000 that he cited. He knows that there has been an increase of 41 per cent. per pupil in funding for schools in Leicestershire. That is £950 extra per pupil per year compared with 1996–97. I acknowledge that there are some substantial difficulties this year and, of course, we are determined to address them. However, I am convinced that the assurances that my right hon. Friend gave the hon. Gentleman last July will be effected.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op)

I declare a slight interest in that my son has just started at St. Bartholomew's school in my village, an excellent primary school. Both as the Member of Parliament for Loughborough and as a concerned parent, therefore, I take a great interest in these matters. I want to reiterate the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor), because at that school he will receive £600 a head more than in 1997. We therefore recognise the advance that has been made. Given the difficulties that occurred last year, however, and the £3.75 million grant, we recognise that we are now moving on again and once again getting an above-inflation increase in the county. The difficulties last year have caused real problems across the county, however. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree to an urgent meeting so that we can look properly at the transitional relief that has been given to the county, and see whether we can work a way through to make sure that we build on the stability that we have had since 1997.

Mr. Miliband

Obviously, I agree with a lot of what my hon. Friend says. We share responsibility with local government both for raising and distributing funds. How local formulae distribute money to different parts of the local education authority is a key issue for parents, pupils and teachers. Of course, I am happy to discuss that with him. We are of course keen to help with anything that we can do to ensure that the transitional grant flows to the right places.