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Column 291Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Wright, Dr Tony
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Eric Illsley and
Mr. John Cummings.
Question accordingly agreed to.
Bill read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I am extremely pleased to introduce this short debate on section 11 funding in Bradford, which is of considerable concern not only to all Bradford Members but to hon. Members representing many parts of the United Kingdom. I am pleased that my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) and for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) are both in their places.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), who is ill, is unable to be here tonight. He asked me to read the following statement from him :
"Having visited schools in my constituency where up to 95 per cent. of the roll are of ethnic minority origin, I know how important this issue is, and that is why I was glad to have an opportunity of discussing it with the Minister for Inner Cities just a few weeks ago.
An understanding of English and an ability to use the language are vital prerequisites to the learning process. Any child who lacks those basic skills is bound to be at a serious disadvantage and to start losing time which can never be made up.
Our objective must be to ensure that every child starts his or her schooling with an ability to make the most of what it can offer. To that end more Section 11 money should perhaps be devoted to the pre-school sector and to working with parents who, in most cases, are very anxious to give their children a good start in life but who may be poorly equipped to do so.
All too evidently, the problems are here and now. Money spent today, if wisely used, will certainly be repaid in the future by cutting the cost of tomorrow's unemployment and tomorrow's social disadvantage.
I hope that Bradford will combine with Government to put together a bid within the context of the Single Regeneration Budget which, among other things, clearly addresses the problems which section 11 was intended to resolve, and which also provides good value for taxpayers' and Council Tax payers' money.
Few challenges are of greater significance in terms of individual development and the future of our communities generally."
The fact that it is a matter of general concern is demonstrated by an early -day motion, which has been signed by more than 70 Members. As the hon. Member for Keighley said, the problem is here and now in Bradford. By the year 2000, one in every two pupils in schools in Bradford will be of ethnic minority origin. At present, nearly 82,000 pupils are on roll, 27 per cent. of ethnic minority origin. The parents charter from the Secretary of State for Education recently flopped through all our letter boxes. It states : "You have a right to a good education for your child. This means that you have a right to expect the school to do its best to make sure every child does as well as he or she possibly can.
The Government's education reforms are designed to support schools' and teachers' efforts to achieve that."
In Bradford, that means that some children need help to speak, write and understand English. That is essential if they are to meet the requirements and demands of the national curriculum. That, sadly, is not the case today.
Continuous monitoring of 20,000 ethnic minority pupils in Bradford suggests that, on leaving first schools aged nine, 27 per cent. of those pupils have still not achieved national curriculum level 2. That has an impact on subsequent achievement, because assessment records show that 59 per cent. of ethnic minority pupils entering upper schools, aged 13, have not yet achieved national
Column 293curriculum level 4. The proportion of Bradford students who do not achieve GCSE grade C or above is the highest in the country. Bradford still has a number of pupils and students who arrive at school with no English. Of the September 1993 intake, there were 177 such children in first schools, 114 in our middle schools and 48 in our upper schools. Although most of our children are second generation, few have parents who were educated in Britain. There is a still a propensity for a spouse in an arranged marriage to come from overseas, often speaking little or no English. It is not surprising that those parents cannot teach their children English at home. Because of the number of parents who cannot speak English, there is a significant need for more adult literacy provision. I know that the Minister is concerned about that, and I hope that he will say something about it.
Nearly all our children in Bradford live in areas of high stress and social and economic deprivation. The need for literacy development to meet national averages is high. Many Asian children are bilingual and some as young as six, seven or eight are multilingual. Although they achieve such proficiency in languages, they are given little or no credit. If those same children spoke English, German, Italian or French, we would all say, "What clever children." They would win enormous recognition and credit. Because they speak Urdu, Punjabi or Pushto, little or no credit is given to them.
Given support, tuition and the support that section 11 offers to many schools in Bradford and in other parts of the United Kingdom, those children can be given the support and education that they not only deserve but to which their parents are entitled--not just through the parents charter but as taxpayers and council tax payers. That is, sadly, not the case today.
In November last year, the Home Office announced that section 11 funding would be transferred to the Department of the Environment and administered regionally through the single regeneration budget ; popularly known as the SRB. Initial guidance indicated that section 11, a revenue-based grant, would not sit easily in the SRB which is largely a capital-based programme.
From April 1995, Bradford city council will no longer receive section 11 funding. To sustain its current level of service commitment, it will be required to identify more than £4 million against the context of further budget reductions. Bradford city council now employs 587 section 11 staff in 19 projects. The full effect of the £4.2 million budget reduction will be the loss of nearly 300 staff.
Every project faces serious staff reductions, and community-based projects will be devastated. Those projects currently employ 121 staff, of whom 82 are on fixed-term and sessional contracts. In school-based projects, 320 teachers and other staff are employed, of whom 142 are on fixed-term contracts. Of all the projects, the most dramatic impact will be felt in nursery and first schools where 47 per cent., or 91 staff, are on fixed- term contracts.
I wish to end--my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, North and for Bradford, South wish to intervene briefly--by asking the Minister a number of questions. First, I should be grateful to know whether he is in
Column 294principle prepared to meet with an all-party delegation to discuss the problems which I have been outlining this evening. I requested such a meeting some time ago.
Secondly, will the Government consider extending section 11 for another two years, administered by the Home Office, to assist places such as Bradford which were advised by the Home Office to submit three-year section 11 bids which end next April ? A number of metropolitan districts which submitted five-year bids will be able to bid for SRB allocations, and that strikes many of us as extremely unfair and anomalous.
Alternatively, if my suggestion to the Minister is unacceptable, will the Government consider grants for education purposes available through the SRB being administered by the Home Office and the Department for Education ? If the Government decide that section 11-type initiatives are to remain within the SRB, that would need to be earmarked within the budget so that there are clear criteria distinguishing capital and revenue grants.
Finally, recognising the importance of section 11 funding in places such as Bradford, will the Government provide additional resources to support section 11 work in schools, either through the SRB or in some other way ? The hon. Member for Keighley mentioned in his statement that he recently met the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction. It is interesting to note that the Minister, when replying to a debate on housing and urban regeneration and referring to section 11 and to my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South whom he had met recently, said :
"We do understand the issue and we will do what we can to find a way through."--[ Official Report , 29 June 1994 ; Vol. 245, c. 909.] That admission is interesting, and I hope very much that, when the Minister of State replies, he will be able to give some indication of what thinking is going on in Whitehall. The matter is presided over by three Departments, and there seem to be major internal contradictions in the policy that is emerging. I hope that those contradictions can be resolved, because the victims of them are many thousands of children throughout the country who deserve the best education that we can provide. I hope that ways will quickly be found of ensuring that those resources find their way to the children of this country.
Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe (Bradford, South) : There is cross-party recognition that the loss of section 11 funding is turning the Government's policies on their head. Section 11 funding has been successful in respect of nursery education. This evening, we are concentrating on Bradford because it suffered the double blow of losing SSA support for ethnicity. Funding must be continued. Bradford's bid was reduced from five years to three, and the loss of SSA meant a cut of £18.3 million.
Initiatives such as city challenge and the urban programme were the result of problems in inner-city areas. We do not want to return to the days of a lack of funding to provide equality of opportunity. Over the past three years, Bradford has provided £4.2 million from mainline funding to support section 11 programmes, but it cannot continue to do so after an SSA cut of £18.3 million. The Government must concentrate on what they are trying to achieve. If that is not done, they will create problems and defeat their own projects.
Column 295As a minimum, section 11 funding of earmarked schemes must be protected for at least a further two years, making five years. If that cannot be done, the Government must acknowledge the need to do something. In areas such as Bradford and most other metropolitan authorities, there must be greater concentration on section 11 -type schemes to support people in dramatic need.
Mr. Terry Rooney (Bradford, North) : Two years ago, together with my hon Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and our late hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South, I had a meeting with Home Office and Education Ministers about the future of section 11. Strong advice from the Home Office meant that bids were for only three years--with the promise of close co-operation and advice, to assist the authority when projects came up for renewal. The single regeneration budget came as a bombshell after all the promises that we were given.
One problem is that Bradford has never had a race riot. If it had been otherwise, large sums of money might have followed, as happened with Bristol, Toxteth and Brixton. Fortunately, we have never had such happenings, and part of the reason for that is the extensive and profitable use of section 11 funds in the youth service and in further education. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to our case, and I hope that we shall hear some good news.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Peter Lloyd) : I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) for raising the subject and for speaking so knowledgeably about the good work that is carried out under section 11, especially in Bradford, and about the continuing need there for instruction and practice in English for those members of the community, especially the younger members, for whom English is not the first language.
I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, West for bringing the message from my hon Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller). I am glad that the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe) and for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) stayed to add their voices to the debate.
I regret that this year's reduction in section 11 funding was necessary in the overall Exchequer retrenchment, but we should acknowledge that, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the grant was rapidly increased and reached high levels in recent years. Even at the reduced level of £110 million, the amount provided under section 11 compares favourably with the £33 million that was made available in 1979-80, and the £88 million paid out in 1988-89. As soon as I was aware that it would not be possible to sustain the grant at the level to which it had risen, I got my Department to write to local education authorities to give them some 16 months' notice, so that they could have the maximum time for the difficult task of planning how best to manage the reduction. Following that and the result of extensive consultation with local authorities and their associations, we also changed the basis on which the grant was distributed, using a straight cash grant allocation to each local authority rather than distributing funding as a percentage of the cost of each approved project. That was
Column 296because that method meant that funding would be lost if local authorities were unable to increase their contribution to each project.
I am glad to say that more than 60 per cent. of LEAs that have reported their decisions to us plan to make up the shortfall and keep all existing projects going. We have yet to hear from 23 per cent. of LEAs, but I am glad that Bradford is among those that have been able to maintain section 11 spending this year. At £4.2 million, Bradford still has the third largest section 11 grant in the country. The hon. Members for Bradford, West, for Bradford, South and for Bradford, North also expressed particular concern about the absorption of Bradford's section 11 money into the single regeneration budget. I can understand that that worry is heightened by their knowledge that Bradford's projects are all three-year ones and are due to end this year. Responsibility for the SRB to which section 11 is being transferred lies not with the Home Office but with the Department of the Environment.
My right hon. Friend the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction met the hon. Member for Bradford, South and my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley, together with representatives of ethnic groups in Bradford, to discuss these issues last month. My right hon. Friend tells me that he found the meeting useful. The hon. Member for Bradford, West has asked to see me and a ministerial colleague from the Department for Education with other hon. Members to discuss these issues. I shall endeavour to arrange such a meeting before the recess, so that we can look more broadly at the issues. Although responsibility for the SRB does not lie with the Home Office, I should like to make some observations. The SRB conforms to the kind of integrated model recommended by a large number of independent organisations--the local authority associations and many voluntary organisations as well as the Audit Commission and the National Audit Office. This new arrangement marks the end of what the Audit Commission has referred to as
"a patchwork quilt of complexity and idiosyncrasies".
It is surely sensible to have regeneration programmes put together as near as possible to the areas benefiting and at a point where local organisations can most effectively bring their own ideas and priorities to bear.
The management of the budget through the 10 Government offices for the regions will ensure the involvement of people who are much closer to the concerns of local communities and better equipped to form judgments on local needs than are Whitehall Departments. It is an essential ingredient of the whole initiative that resources should be allocated on the basis of local perceptions of need and not just according to the priorities that are set nationally.
The hon. Members for Bradford, West, for Bradford, North and for Bradford, South painted a clear picture of the position in Bradford. From my knowledge, it is similar in many respects to the situation in many other parts of the country with substantial ethnic minority populations. But Bradford also has its own heritage, characteristics, circumstances and needs which deserve, and have, to be identified and addressed in their own individual fashion. Decisions about Bradford should be reached on the basis of those, not some general blueprint. The hon. Member for Bradford, West asked for section 11-type projects to be ring-fenced or "earmarked" to ensure their protection. I am afraid that ring fencing would
Column 297undermine the very purpose of the SRB, which allows local organisations the greatest flexibility in how they bid for and spend money from central Government.
The opportunity is there for local authorities, training and enterprise councils and others--in Bradford and elsewhere--to submit applications under the SRB for funds to meet the particular needs of their areas. Most promisingly, in view of the hon. Gentlemen's concerns, the SRB means that initiatives aimed at ethnic minorities can be considered in the context of wider regeneration programmes. Members of ethnic minorities should no longer feel that they are being treated differently, or being marginalised, as some have certainly felt they were in relation to existing programmes. As sponsor Minister for three city challenge programmes in the west midlands, I have seen the achievements that are possible through local authorities, TECs, the private sector and voluntary organisations working closely in partnership--achievements which I suspect would not have been possible otherwise. Something else that I have learnt from my experience as a sponsor Minister is that education, and training in English for those who do not speak it--especially those just entering education--is soon identified as a key priority for those who wish to regenerate parts of our urban areas containing minority communities who do not speak English as a first language.
Nevertheless, I have heard anxieties voiced by some groups--which lay behind all that the hon. Gentlemen said--that large regeneration programmes such as the SRB, or to a lesser extent city challenge, tend to target economic revival and regeneration over and above all other aspects. However, if economic regeneration is to be possible and local people are to be adequately trained for the employment opportunities that regeneration will create, it is vital for them to be able to speak English and have sufficient command of it to take up those opportunities in training and in work.
In that way, many city challenge projects have realised the importance of investing in education as a vital part of their overall programme. If they think through their priorities sensibly, the regional offices and those bidding for funds will realise the key role that education plays in urban regeneration, and will see the need to target their bids accordingly.
The Home Office is emphatically not bowing out of the process, although we do not have departmental responsibility for it. We remain the Department responsible for promoting the interests of the ethnic minority communities. For the first time, senior Home
Column 298Office officials will be based in each of the Government regional offices ; they will pay particularly close attention to the way in which bids and programmes are being designed, and the impact that they will have on the communities concerned.
Most important, all projects will be monitored after implementation to ensure that the benefits that this expenditure brings have reached the ethnic minorities, and the other communities and groups that are most in need. Such monitoring is vital. It will apply to all SRB initiatives, not just to those that are recognisable as the kind hitherto funded under programmes such as section 11. That will create a substantial opportunity to ensure that, in future, the ethnic minorities benefit more fully from a wider range of Government spending than they have in the past.
We are certainly aware in the Home Office--and, I believe, in the regional offices--of the particular issue relating to section 11 funding in Bradford to which the hon. Member for Bradford, West and his hon. Friends have referred. The SRB is intended to support a wide range of local regeneration activity, and to encourage locally devised and implemented initiatives. It would be wrong for the Government to predetermine the outcome of any of the bids, but I believe that the outcome of the bids can be more effectively targeted than Opposition Members may think, on the areas on which they would like them to focus
Matters are still at an early stage. Potential applicants have been invited to let the regional government office have an outline of their proposals as a basis for dialogue and negotiation ; I understand that Bradford has sent its outline proposals to the Yorkshire and Humberside office. The regional offices are currently considering the draft bids that they have received, and have been getting in touch with potential applicants to discuss them-- although I understand that the Yorkshire and Humberside office has not yet had such a feedback meeting with Bradford.
Much further work will then need to be done before 7 September, the closing date for applications. At that stage, when it has been possible to consider proposed initiatives in greater detail, and with the necessary flesh on the skeleton outline, it will be for the Government offices to make properly informed recommendations to Ministers about the bids on the table.
I am glad to have had the opportunity provided by the hon. Member for Bradford, West to develop some thoughts on that crucial subject, and I look forward to meeting him and other colleagues in the near future to consider the matter a little more fully.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes past Twelve midnight.
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