HL Deb 01 July 1997 vol 581 cc89-90

3.10 p.m.

Lord Henley

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why they are advertising for a new chairman and board for the Funding Agency for Schools.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the terms of appointment of the present chairman, Sir Christopher Benson, and six other members of the board of the Funding Agency for Schools expire at the end of September. We have invited applications to fill these posts. That is consistent with the code and guidance issued by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments. This is based on the very helpful recommendations of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan. The remaining eight members of the board have terms of appointment extending at least to next March and, in four cases, beyond that.

Lord Henley

My Lords, if, as we understand, grant-maintained schools are to be emasculated and the funding for grant-maintained schools is to come from the LEAs, what function will the FAS (Funding Agency for Schools) have in the future? What then will be the necessity for appointing a new board and a new chairman to the FAS? Might it therefore be advisable to retain the existing members and board until after such time as the noble Baroness and the Government have made a decision on the future of grant-maintained schools and the FAS?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, perhaps I may remind the noble Lord opposite that it was his government who decided to extend the appointments of the members of the funding agency for just six months. In fact, it is entirely consistent with Nolan rules, when making a second appointment following an initial one, and perfectly reasonable to consider whether an appointment should be terminated or whether the person in that post should be reappointed.

So far as concerns the "emasculation" of grant-maintained schools, such is not our intention. We shall introduce legislation to change the status of grant-maintained schools and are discussing with the agency what that will mean for it. In the meantime, the agency will continue to have very important functions to carry out and will need a properly constituted board to oversee them. That board will have to continue its work for quite some time since, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Bill to make the changes will not be introduced until, at the earliest, some time in November and possibly later. It will be a large Bill and will take some time to go through both Houses of Parliament.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the expertise that has been built up by the Funding Agency for Schools in York will be retained and not wasted, if a new chairman and board are constituted? Can she also say, if a new board is constituted, whether it will still be based in York and so preserve the opportunities there for the jobs of some 150 to 200 persons?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, as I have already explained, the agency will continue to carry out its functions for quite a long time. So it will be necessary to retain the expertise of those staff who work in it. We are currently discussing with the agency what the change of status of GM schools will eventually mean for it; the position of the agency staff will need to be considered as part of that process. We have no intention of removing the agency, and those who work in the agency in York, from that city.

Lord Annan

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recollect that in the early 1980s chairmen and vice-chairmen of public bodies who were faintly suspected of holding liberal views were culled with an intensity and ruthlessness appropriate to cattle with mad cow disease?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I remember it well.