HC Deb 01 July 2004 vol 423 cc422-3
3. Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con)

If he will take steps to reduce variations in pupil funding per head between counties. [181594]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband)

The current system, which was the subject of widespread consultation, reflects the relative need of counties and metropolitan areas alike. Our priority is to restore stability and predictability to the school funding system, and we will not be changing it during 2004–05 or 2005–06.

Mr. Luff

We in Worcestershire are always immensely grateful to the Minister for the courteous way in which he listens to our arguments, and for the commitment he has made to go on listening to them. Admittedly we are always disappointed by the outcome, but at least he listens.

Sadly, however, the most recent detailed academic evidence in favour of a change in the balance of funding between Worcestershire and its neighbouring counties was simply passed on by the Minister's Department to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, unopened and unconsidered. Can the Minister reassure me that he has not changed his policy of constructive engagement with us on these important issues—or has the ODPM heavy mob had a quiet word with him at Admiralty arch, telling him to stay shtum and turn the other way while our children and schools are mugged for the cash they are owed?

Mr. Miliband

The temptations of constructive engagement with the hon. Gentleman and his friends are so great that I certainly would not want to turn away from the dialogue that has been initiated.

I am sure that the whole House is intimately aware of the details of the Oswald and Blanchflower study of Worcestershire and its labour force survey. No doubt the House is also aware that the new earnings survey on which we base the area cost adjustment deals with a much wider sample, and is therefore considered more representative by many academic commentators. None the less, I look forward to continuing the discussion in this forum and elsewhere.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab)

As my hon. Friend knows, there has been a new formula since April 2003. It is, without doubt, simpler and clearer than its predecessor. Does my hon. Friend accept, however, that a league table of per pupil funding across the country shows that the gap between the best and the worst funding has widened under the new system? Does that not mean that it is deficient in justice and equity?

Mr. Miliband

Having acknowledged the existence of constructive engagement with the hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), I feel that I should pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his assiduous campaigning in the interests of Staffordshire. He will, I think, be as pleased as I am that Staffordshire's per pupil increase in the school formula funding share this year is 6.3 per cent. above the national average, thus narrowing the gap between it and other authorities. I am sure he will also agree that it is important for all school funding to be based on fair and transparent criteria, rather than arbitrary targets. It is on that basis that we will continue to make progress.

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