HL Deb 15 October 1997 vol 582 cc440-4

3.24 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbredeasked Her Majesty's Government:

What benefits are expected to flow from the provision of £1 billion for local education authorities to spend on education, and a further £1.3 billion to improve school buildings and equipment, as announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget on 2nd July.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, that was indeed a very significant additional provision in the Budget. It reflects our priority to raise standards in all our schools. It means more money for books and equipment and more support and training for teachers and head teachers. It means more resources to tackle discipline and truancy. It can also begin to help to deliver reductions in class sizes for five to seven year-olds.

On the capital side, this year, as an immediate consequence of the increased capital provision, pupils and teachers in 2,300 schools in England will benefit from badly needed repair and improvement work. By the end of this Parliament, we shall have made long overdue progress as regards replacing unsafe and sub-standard buildings and outdated equipment so that our schools can provide an environment fit for teaching and learning. The Government look also to their local authority partners to play their part by translating our spending plans into real improvements in their schools.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does my noble friend agree with me that parents and schools will measure the success of that injection of funds by what happens in the classroom? Will he explain to the House and to me how he has consulted with local education authorities and what procedures he has put in place to ensure that every penny of the money that has been released for that purpose actually goes to the classrooms and the schools themselves?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, there have been and there are continuing long discussions with the local authority associations and individual local authorities to make sure that that money goes to where it is intended. It is precisely the case that it is intended to improve the situation for pupils in the classroom: to improve the quality of teaching; to improve the quality of equipment; to improve the quality of the environment in which they work; and in particular, to improve the technology with which they work in their schools.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, perhaps I may seek some clarification with regard to the Minister's interesting reply. First, can he specify the exact period for which this particular increase will apply? Secondly, given the change in the deflator from 2 per cent. per year to 2.75 per cent. per year in the Budget of July 1997, will the Minister tell us what is the net value of the increase in education given that the value of the original education budget has been reduced by 0.75 per cent. per year?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, as regards the second matter, the recurrent expenditure, which for this year is just over £1 billion, is 5.7 per cent. in money terms, which in real terms is a 3 per cent. increase. There are two parts of the provision: £1 billion this year and recurrently, and £1.3 billion towards capital improvements which covers this year and the next four years.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I am aware that under the devolution proposals, education and health will be devolved. Could I have some assurance that the large sums which are mentioned here for distribution in education will be distributed on the Barnett formula in relation to Scottish education?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, the new money in the recurrent funding includes provision for Scotland of £50 million. As regards capital expenditure, the allocation for Scotland this year is £9 million and £27 million for each of the subsequent years. The grants in Scotland are allocated on a somewhat different basis from those in England. However, that is the commitment of this Government to education in Scotland as it is in England and Wales.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, owing to the absolutely super economy which the present Government inherited from their predecessors, has it not been noticeable that the recruitment of teachers has now become rather more difficult and that there appears to be a shortage of teachers? How, therefore, shall we decrease the number of pupils in a class if it is more difficult to recruit teachers without increasing expenditure by rather more than the present Government have pledged to do?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, despite some improvement in the economic situation, we inherited a situation in education whereby spending per pupil had declined for each of the past three years in real terms. We have already started to reverse that and we shall continue to do so.

There is not an overall national problem in relation to the recruitment of teachers but there is a problem in particular specialties, in some head teacher posts and in particular in London. Your Lordships will have noticed that on Monday of this week, the Teacher Training Agency announced a major new programme for the recruitment of teachers. That also forms part of our strategy for improving the quality of teaching which is delivered to our pupils.

Lord Merlyn-Rees

My Lords, I understand that those two sums of money are for different purposes. Can we be assured that priority will be given to the inner city areas, which are areas where people of influence do not live? Therefore, inner cities are often forgotten.

Lord Whitty

My Lords, many of your Lordships and I live in the inner cities and I am sure that there is some influence in this House on inner cities. When assessing educational priorities, it is the intention that the social needs of schools of all sorts will be taken into account. It can be seen immediately from the individual allocations, where it is clear which schools will obtain what in England, that the deprivation of some inner city schools is being urgently addressed.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the figures he gave on the Scottish and Welsh allocations are in fact consistent with the Barnett formula? Further, can the noble Lord at least give the House an assurance that, without special measures or ring fencing arrangements, there can be guarantees that this money will be spent locally in the way intended by the Government given the fact that local authorities determine local spending priorities at a local level?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, on the capital allocations in England and, in a slightly different sense, in Wales, local authorities have to submit bids and therefore it is absolutely clear directly where the money is going. As regards the recurrent funding, we have reached agreement with local authorities on what their priorities should be. At the end of the day, it is of course the delivery mechanism, which I do not believe any party in this House has challenged, that the local authorities have to deliver this money to local schools. I do not believe I mentioned the figures for Wales but, as for Scotland's allocation, this will indeed fit in with all the formulae established by the Treasury. Indeed, I suspect that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not have allowed it had that not been the case.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my question was not whether it would fit in but whether it was consistent with the Barnett formula?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, I understand that to be the case.

Lord Tope

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there is great concern among local authorities about how the Government will distribute such additional resources as there may be? Will the Minister, therefore, give an assurance to those local education authorities which have always made education a priority that they will not be disadvantaged in relation to those local authorities which have never made education a priority and might, because of that fact, be seen to have greater needs?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, clearly there could be some conflict within the field. It is not the intention to undermine those authorities which have always made generous provision for education. However, in some of the areas it is clear that the capital depredation needs addressing as a matter of urgency. There is therefore some concern in those areas but I believe that we can explain the situation and bring along the local authorities with us in the allocation of this money.

Lord Elton

My Lords, will the Minister remind the House from what fund the extra £2.3 billion came and say whether it is the same fund from which the extra money now going to the NHS came? If that is the case, can the Minister say how much is left in that fund for future use?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it is true that some of the money came from reserves in this case. However, that is not the situation with the extra money for the NHS which has been announced during the past few days. That was a reallocation of existing budgets within existing targets.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Government's attempt to claim to have spent additional money has proved no more persuasive to the Institute for Fiscal Studies than it has to my noble friend Lady Williams? In the light of that fact, should not this Question have been covered by the rule that Ministers do not answer hypothetical questions?

Lord Whitty

My Lords, it would restrict the number of Questions tabled in this House significantly if we were to follow that doctrine absolutely. Obviously some of that money has not yet been spent. In general terms I am aware of the views of the Institute for Fiscal Studies. So far as concerns local authorities and the education system, it is pretty clear that we are talking about extra money. As regards both the capital and the recurrent expenditure, it is real money which they are obtaining now to improve services over and above the inheritance from the previous government.