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Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth): May I draw the attention of the House to the motion on the Order Paper in the name of the Leader of the Opposition? The six names of Opposition Members who support it include the shadow Chief Whip and the chairman of the parliamentary Labour party. However, the list does not include the shadow Treasury spokesman, which is a startling omission. Hon. Members may find it deeply significant that no member of the shadow Treasury team is prepared to put his name to the motion. Another extraordinary and startling omission is that the motion does not mention the teachers' pay awards. That shows the true import that Opposition Members attach to today's debate.

The speeches that we have heard from Opposition Members so far have been predictable: the usual demands for more money and the usual silence about where it would come from.

Mr. Don Foster: That is not true of speeches by Liberal Democrat Members.

Mr. Pawsey: On this occasion, I shall excuse the hon. Gentleman from those strictures. He may, however, come in for adverse comments later.

It would be helpful if Opposition Members would occasionally bend their minds, however distasteful that may be, to the sordid problem of money. If they intend to make more funds available to local authorities, through them to the education service and through it to schools, where will they get it from? Do they intend to raise it from taxation or will they make savings in other services? If they take the former route of imposing higher taxes, has that been agreed by the right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown)? That is no academic point, because it is crucial and central to today's debate. Hon. Members will understand that there is a world of difference between some vague, well-intentioned phrase quoted in a television studio and a firm, costed, unconditional pledge on how much cash will be provided and when. That is what counts and that will underline the true importance that Opposition Members attach to education. It is no good complaining that funds are inadequate if, at the same time, Opposition Members are not prepared to say where the money will come from.

Like everyone else, I would like more money for education and that is why I applaud the Government for embarking on the remarkable increase in education spending that has occurred since we were first elected in 1979. The Government have increased spending per pupil

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by 47 per cent. in real terms, an amount probably without precedent in recent times. Spending on books and equipment is up by 31 per cent. in real terms and teachers have not been forgotten either. Their pay has increased by almost 60 per cent., again in real terms. Given those substantial increases, I sometimes wonder whether the taxpayer has always received value for money. I suspect that it is only since the Government's reforms of 1988 that educational attainment has shown a real improvement when compared with the 1960s and 1970s. It was, after all, Jim Callaghan who started the great debate in 1976 with his speech at Ruskin college.

Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North): That is right.

Mr. Pawsey: I am delighted to note the assent of my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson).

Hon. Members will recall that the education reforms have included the introduction of the national curriculum and testing; the establishment of Ofsted, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already referred; the introduction of GCSEs; the local management of schools; and the introduction of grant-maintained schools. All those reforms and a host of other measures are set to improve the quality and standard of state education.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-West): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Pawsey: My hon. Friend must forgive me, but I just have 10 minutes in which to speak.

Since today's debate is about funding and has been held at the initiative of Her Majesty's Opposition, it is worth considering some of the ideas being actively promoted by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. They need some consideration--not a lot--but it would be useful to know exactly where they stand on grant-maintained schools. Will they allow them to continue or not? Some Opposition Members appreciate the benefits of those schools and send their children to them. Let me make it clear immediately that I do not criticise them in any way for that. As parents, they naturally want the best for their children and are able to exercise the freedom and choice given to them and every other parent by the Government. What I and my hon. Friends find unacceptable, however, is that while some Opposition Members send their children to those schools, at the same time other members of the same party are actively seeking their abolition. That suggests a degree of confusion or worse, which is intolerable. [Interruption.] I am glad that I have woken up Opposition Members, because, frankly, their attitude in today's debate is almost dozy. The debate has been held at their initiative, but the fact that so few of them are present shows how much they care about education.

The abolition of grant-maintained schools has spending implications. If Opposition Members want those schools to be returned to local education authorities, what will that cost? Currently those schools are run efficiently and effectively. They give parents what they want for their children, vide the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. If those schools are brought back under the control of LEAs to satisfy the ideological views of a small number of small-minded people, it will be at a cost to the education budget. Another idea mooted by one Opposition spokesman--sadly he is not present this afternoon--is that a graduate tax should be introduced in place of the interest-free

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student loan. Perhaps Opposition Members can tell the House what that idea would cost to implement. It would mean, presumably, that the current Student Loans Company would be wound up and new arrangements made through the Inland Revenue. That is unlikely to be a cheap exercise.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pawsey: No, I am sorry, but I am almost out of time. It is a truism that one can spend a pound only once. That applies to teachers, books, schools or crack-brained measures designed to satisfy the more socialist instincts of the National Union of Teachers.

On local authority spending, I believe that it is now time to reconsider the capping legislation--I know that a number of hon. Friends share my view. I must add that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) had the courtesy to write to me to say that he intended to mention me in his speech. I wonder how that courtesy compares with that shown by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) when he referred to my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten)? I suspect that the right hon. Member for Sparkbrook, who is now not here, remembers the traditions of the House far better than some other Opposition Members.

I am not ashamed to say that I believe that the capping mechanism should now be removed, because the socialist republics that ran some of our great cities in the 1980s--the Manchesters, the Liverpools, the Sheffields and some of the London boroughs--have greatly modified their position in the wake of four successive general election defeats. The capping legislation should therefore be substantially amended to restore to local authorities the right to decide their own level of local spending in accordance the right with perceived local needs, which certainly includes education.

5.36 pm

Mr. Michael Clapham (Barnsley, West and Penistone): I shall confine my remarks to the effects of the 1995-96 settlement on Barnsley. It has not only highlighted a crisis in education generally, but, in particular, highlighted the problems faced by Barnsley. It threatens the advances that we have made in nursery education provision, but, most worrying of all, it will certainly halt the steady improvements that have been made in primary and secondary educational attainment.

It would appear that, nationally, the Government have been too preoccupied with their policy of featherbedding the private school sector while standards in schools in the public sector have fallen. By allowing that to happen, the sad fact is that the Government are not only failing our children but failing to address the important question of Britain's future. Britain can survive in a competitive global market only if we maintain good educational standards. The educational standards achieved under the Government have not come up to what Ministers would have us believe. For example, a recent survey revealed that one third of 14-year-olds are not mastering basic English, mathematics and science. That survey also revealed that one in six adults has severe literacy and numeracy difficulties. Those educated in the 1960s and

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the 1970s fare better than those taught in the 1980s, which contradicts the point made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins). I was a teacher in the 1970s and I can at least claim that I helped young people to achieve.

Education in Barnsley has been seriously threatened. We had a long battle to persuade the Minister that the standard spending assessment formula treated Barnsley unfairly. The review of the criteria was hailed as a chance to achieve a fairer distribution of SSAs, but it has not brought any appreciation of our problem--at least, in our experience. This year, for example, Barnsley's maximum expenditure limit is only 0.5 per cent. more than our 1994-95 equivalent budget, which is only 0.5 per cent. greater than the SSA level. That compares with the average allowance above SSAs for metropolitan districts of 4.5 per cent. Obviously, Barnsley has been unfairly treated. Already music services to schools have been lost as a result of a failure to fund properly in past years. That is an especially hurtful blow in a region that has fought hard to keep some semblance of cultural activities alive in its schools. In addition, the community education programme has been closed, as has the schools swimming programme. All those cuts, caused by a lack of Government funding, add to the demoralisation of a community that has had more than its fair share of knocks.

Between 1991 and 1994, for example, the number of our secondary school pupils has increased by 5 per cent. One would have expected that, in a rational society, the resources that Government provide would at least be proportionate to the pupil increase, but of course we are talking about irrational government.

In a typical Barnsley secondary school, the standstill budget will mean a further steep staff reduction of five teachers. A reduction of five teachers in each school will mean that there will be no special educational needs teaching in the school curriculum. Currently there are 36 periods per week in maths and English for children with special educational needs. At present, 13 additional periods are offered per week for children who have learning difficulties in science classes, but the cut will mean that the number of pupils in classes will increase from 22 to 28. There will also be a reduction in arts and technology teaching. Currently there are 16 periods a week in art, music and information technology. That could disappear altogether, and it would seriously affect the delivery of the national curriculum in those lesson areas.

As recently as a few weeks ago, I attended two school speech days; one at Willowgarth school, on the east side of Barnsley, the other at Penistone grammar school, in my constituency. Willowgarth is situated in the village of Grimethorpe, where the last colliery closure in the Barnsley area took place. The teaching staff are proud of the fact that they have done a first -class job in helping to provide the community with hope and a good school for its children to attend. Now their efforts have been threatened by a lack of funding. The governors at Penistone grammar school told me that they were struggling to ensure that the school could maintain its good record. They were afraid, however, that without a commensurate increase in resourcing to meet the increase in pupil numbers the school and, more importantly, the community, would lose out.

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Barnsley has been confronted by some severe spending pressures in education. For example, the number of children with a statutory entitlement to free meals increased by 58 per cent., from 6,081 in 1990 to 9,591 in 1994, resulting in an increased cost of £1 million. The number of children eligible for a clothes grant has increased in the same period by 54 per cent. and now stands at almost 11,000, resulting in an increased cost of £200,000.

Special educational needs have increased at an alarming rate: from 1.3 per cent. of pupils in 1990 to 3.1 per cent. to date. That has resulted in an extra cost of £3.2 million.

Another increased spending pressure that will obviously bear heavily on Barnsley is the funding of the teachers' pay settlements. The School Teachers Review Body will recommend a 2.7 per cent. increase. The increase must be paid, but I urge the Minister to impress on Government that it must be met by Government funding, rather than leaving it to local authorities.

The sad thing is that the cuts have come at a time when things have been steadily improving in Barnsley schools. Although the Department for Education's league tables show that Barnsley schools are considerably below the national average, the overall school performance index illustrates an improvement between 1989 and 1994. Now the progress and the achievement of individual schools are threatened by financial constraints.

Barnsley is an authority that works well with its governing bodies. In the past year, the town has held the first educational conference for governors and staff. That was followed by a series of meetings, when a vision statement of the education service was developed and its aims and objectives were established. The tragedy is that the objectives are now placed in jeopardy by the budget.

Finally, I urge the Minister to ask the Secretary of State for Education to bring pressure to bear on the Secretary of State for the Environment to meet Barnsley's council leaders and to consider sympathetically a formula that will allow the Barnsley community to progress towards its educational objectives.

Mr. Pawsey: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. During my remarks I may not have mentioned the fact that I am a parliamentary adviser to the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. If I did not do so, may I ask that it now be recorded in the Official Report ?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Member did not declare that interest earlier. I am grateful that he has now remembered to do so. 5.45 pm

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton): The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) spoke this afternoon and also spoke on local government finance last week, although I believe that the Liberal Democrats' local government finance spokesman is the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel). On both occasions, the hon. Member for Bath rather glancingly criticised the area cost adjustment and the way in which it is calculated. Perhaps the reason why the hon. Member for Newbury is not present this afternoon and was silent last week is that the county in which his constituency lies, Berkshire, benefits from the area cost adjustment.

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On local government finance in general, the Liberals in the west country are campaigning heavily about the area cost adjustment, and we also heard from the Labour Member for Bristol, East (Ms Corston). We need to be realistic. Conservative Members agree with the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration about considering the issue and trying to resolve it in the coming year, but the idea that there is a bag of gold at the end of the rainbow that will resolve all these budgetary problems is far-fetched. The hon. Member for Bath also referred to the Liberal policy of an increase in income tax of a penny in the pound to finance education, one of the Liberal Democrats' supposedly popular policies. Those who study the Liberal Democrats' pledges and policies believe that the actual cost would amount to 2.5 pennies in the pound. However, for every constituent who wants a penny or 2.5p spent on education, there will be some who want the same amount or more to be spent on law and order, defence, health or pensions and social security. Before we have gone very far, we shall be well in excess of a 30p in the pound basic rate of income tax. I hope that the House will consider that. The response of Conservative Members of Parliament with constituencies in Somerset to the local government finance settlement was made in the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Robinson) last Wednesday. I am glad to see him in the Chamber. I should like to take some of those arguments further, because there has been a hysterical campaign, not only in Somerset but in Devon.

Schools have been given indicative budgets. Sespiteincreases in Government assistance and despite increases--albeit small--in the amount that Somerset and Devon can spend up to the capping limit, those schools have been told to make substantial cuts in their budgets. Therefore, conclusions are being drawn about the number of teacher redundancies that might result.

Not surprisingly, people are worried; some are very angry. There have been marches. My hon. Friends and I have had many letters. We have had petition forms, referring, I may say, to a cut in Government support--and, as I said, there has been no cut in Government support. That is a typical lie.

The Conservative county councillors in Somerset have proposed alternatives to the Liberal budget, but the response, rather curiously, of the ruling majority party is to say, "There is no alternative." The Liberal Democrats plan to go ahead with their indicative budgets, their sacking of teachers and their causing of deep chaos in schools in my constituency and those of my hon. Friends.

In addition to the alternative budgets of Conservative county councillors, I have a few more points to consider. Last year, Somerset county council increased its staff by 500--so it was not exactly the tight year that some people have suggested. It claimed that 200 teachers would have to be sacked last year, but instead 98 teachers and 166 classroom assistants were recruited.

A note from the Library, which is based on a written answer from 17 October 1994, shows how much of their education budget the various local education authorities have delegated to schools. Somerset is about a third of the way up the list, with 86.2 per cent. of its total education budget delegated to schools. The hon. Member for Bath--I am glad to see that he is in his place --referred to

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Northumberland. During the same period, it delegated 88.9 per cent. of its education budget to schools. At the top of the list is Hertfordshire, which delegated 91.3 per cent. of its education budget to schools, and Berkshire delegated 90 per cent. Of course, schools would have more money if Somerset and other local authorities delegated more of their education budgets to them.

Reference was also made to the balances held by schools. I appreciate that some schools have deliberately saved balances year after year in order to fund specific projects. Therefore, I do not wish to encourage schools to dig deep into their funding reserves or spend their balances in one year. A written answer of 19 January 1995, at column 641 of Hansard , to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey), shows that Somerset has £6.6 million in school balances. It is interesting to compare that with Devon, which has a much larger pupil population, at £10.3 million.

Those councillors in Somerset who are anxious to save mainstream education services might consider some perhaps more controversial proposals. For example, they could reverse, or at least postpone, the Liberal policy to have children start school at a younger age--the rising fives issue. The previous Conservative administration made a rather controversial decision about that and saved a considerable amount of money. That decision has now been reversed, but I believe that at least a postponement would save money.

We also have to look at the cost of maintaining very small schools. A school in my constituency that is about to close has only 12 pupils and at the time of the previous financial assessment it had 15 pupils. I do not see how one can make effective education provision for a school of that size. The school received funding of £70,000 and, as the Member of Parliament for that area, I found it very difficult to justify that sort of financial commitment.

In conclusion, I refer to the important matter of the forthcoming pay award for teachers. Since 1990 there has been an average increase of 36 per cent. in teachers' pay, which contrasts with a 23 per cent. increase for the whole economy. Teachers have not fared badly in recent years and we want to see that trend continue. We want to maintain recruitment levels and maintain and improve morale in the teaching profession.

I pay tribute to the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in that respect. She inherited certain difficulties when she assumed her post, to which other hon. Members have referred. I have said harsh things about her predecessor and I do not wish to return to them. I am sure that all hon. Members recognise the difficult position that the Secretary of State inherited when she took over the job and we appreciate the progress that she has made.

We must leave it to my right hon. Friend to judge how far she will go with the review body's recommendations. She must make the right decisions and she faces a difficult task. She may decide to phase in some of the recommendations, but if she decides to implement all of them at or above the level of inflation, she must expect the support of her Cabinet colleagues in dealing with the problems that will arise from meeting the pay increase.

For example, I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth mentioned the capping limit, which will be reviewed next year. Perhaps the Secretary of State will have to look at it this year.

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Conservative Members support capping as a way of dealing with authorities that have no regard for the financial burdens that they place on their constituents. In view of the recent reforms of local government finance, we should look carefully at the concept of capping as a way for the Treasury to decide the meticulous funding arrangements of fairly responsible local authorities. I have my arguments with Somerset, but I would not describe it as a Lambeth or a Camden.

We must look at the capping limit next year and we must maintain pressure on the Secretary of State for Education and the Secretary of State for the Environment in order to secure a better settlement next year. If we can expect a better settlement next year, local authorities may be convinced to hold the line this year in the face of what we all accept is a very tough financial settlement. 5.55 pm

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): I am sorry that the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey)--my Conservative colleague from Warwickshire--is not in his seat because he raised some points in his speech to which I wish to refer.

The hon. Gentleman talked about Labour's views on grant-maintained schools. To my knowledge, no Labour Front-Bench spokesperson has said that parents should not send their children to GM schools. We are concerned about the lack of local democratic accountability in GM schools, the unfair comparative funding arrangements and the entry criteria in some schools. The Labour party's aim is to ensure that every pupil benefits from fair funding, that each GM school has an element of local democratic accountability, and that the entry criteria provide equal opportunities for all. I also remind the hon. Gentleman--no doubt he will read it in Hansard tomorrow--that Kenilworth secondary school in his constituency, which has a fine reputation for high academic standards, is a comprehensive school that has not opted out.

Parents in Warwickshire are very angry about the funding cuts in children's education. Parents and teachers are angry because 200 teaching jobs may be lost and class sizes will increase. In some schools, there are as many as 40 pupils in a class. Standards will inevitably fall and the provision of special needs education will be reduced, affecting the most vulnerable pupils. Section 11 funding will also be cut and I have been told that that could result in the loss of three teachers from one school.

The anger is not confined to Opposition politicians, parents, teachers or governors. In Warwickshire, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors have united in criticising the financial settlement's impact. The Government would have us believe that it is all about overspending local authorities that are unable to make proper budget savings. However, the headmaster of St. Francis primary school in Bedworth, Mr. Seamus Crowe, has said that the argument of parents and teachers

"is not with the county council but with the Government". Conservative politicians in Warwickshire are supporting Labour's case--but it is not Labour's case; it is the case of the children, the parents and the governors who want to see decent education standards in that county. Warwickshire has always been a prudent local authority; it was praised in its recent audit report. It was poll tax capped only when it was under Conservative control--for two years running. Warwickshire has always been a relatively low spender per pupil on education. If it were

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to comply with the Government's standard spending assessment, it would have to cut its education budget by £10 million, despite the fact that it is such a low spender. If it made the cuts in its standard spending assessment that the Government seem to suggest, it would probably fall through the statistical floor on education spending.

When I made similar points in a debate last week on the financial settlement, the Secretary of State for the Environment suggested that I was making a plea for special treatment for Warwickshire and that other counties disagreed with the claim. One can imagine his surprise when the reply came not from the Opposition but from behind him. I quote with approval the comments of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth):

"Warwickshire is not asking for special treatment, but for a fair deal. Our frustration is that year after year after year our representations appear to be ignored. It is no surprise that in a zero-sum game other local authorities are not interested in easing Warwickshire's position. If we care about the quality of our democracy, we should be strengthening the independence and scope of elected local government for which a strong mechanism of accountability now exists through the council tax. Does my right hon. Friend agree that our future quality of life, as well as our economic competitiveness, depends to a large extent on whether we invest in our schools? I therefore very much regret the Government's proposals for capping and SSAs--certainly as they bite in Warwickshire--which run counter to all these purposes."--[ Official Report , 1 February 1995; Vol. 253, c. 1113.]

Those were the words of a Conservative Member for Warwickshire, so it has nothing to do with party politics. It is not special pleading; it is concern that the impact on schools in Warwickshire is so damaging that even the Conservatives in the county are concerned about it.

The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth, who I am pleased to see has now resumed his seat, said that the cap must be removed and I agree with him, certainly for Warwickshire. I welcome the conversion of the hon. Gentleman to Labour party policy for Warwickshire. There has been a long campaign by Warwickshire Members and councillors to change the SSA criteria, and it has been supported by all parties. Claims of lax council spending will not wash in Warwickshire; it is plain unfair victimisation of the children of Warwickshire by the Government.

The education budget has already been cut to the bone. Discretionary awards have been cut in Shakespeare's county, where if young people want to become actors, they cannot get a discretionary award to do it. May I make a special plea as a lawyer? When I was young, I was able to get a grant to pursue my legal career. That is barely possible now; in practice, it is impossible. The opportunities offered to previous generations no longer seem to be available in Warwickshire.

The youth service budget has been halved. One third of primary classes have more than 30 pupils; 10 per cent. of classes have more than 35 pupils; and, if cuts are imposed this year, many will have more than 40 pupils. Pupil- teacher ratios are in the bottom quartile of LEAs in England and Wales, and the county has already made 20 per cent. savings in administration and elsewhere to put £2 million into primary schools.

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Education spending per head in Warwickshire has fallen to 96 per cent. of the English county average, while our school- age population is 2.5 per cent. above the English county average. So the county is not only efficiently run; it has cut services to the bone. The 1995 budget is balanced only by no contribution to the education budget for any pay or price increases, by not providing any of the £1 million needed to fund the extra 874 pupils in Warwickshire schools next year and an overall 2.5 per cent. reduction in all budgets. That totals a cut of £9 million for Warwickshire's education department, because of the cuts and increased spending pressures. This year, a primary school pupil will be worth £1,024 until April, but after April the figure will be £993. The contribution for a 15-year-old is £1,864, but after April it will fall to £1,807. In my constituency, the effect on Polesworth comprehensive, which is to take 62 extra pupils, will be £112,000 slashed off the budget. Race Leys middle school at Bedworth will lose £43,000 and two teachers. St. Francis RC primary school in Bedworth will lose a teacher and have classes of more than 40 pupils.

On Friday, I spoke to the headmaster of Nicholas Chamberlaine comprehensive school, who told me that the school faces budget cuts identified by the county of £70,000, including a deficit carried forward because the school was unable to meet the 2 per cent. underfunded pay rises for 1994-95 of £30,000. If staff pay rises for 1995-96 are not funded, the school will face a further reduction of £36,000--a cut of £136,000 in one school budget.

The school has identified the following proposals to make those savings. Seven teachers will have to go. Class sizes will be increased by two thirds across the board, with significant health and safety implications as some workshops cannot properly accommodate full classes. There will be fewer choices at GCSE, with no minority A-level subjects such as religious education or German and fewer books for pupils. The school fabric, which is already deteriorating, will not be able to have the repairs that it needs. There will be no capital investment in any new equipment. Information technology provision will deteriorate further and the school library has already closed. How in all conscience can any Government say that they care about education, yet seek to force such cuts?

I could explain the effect of the cuts on other schools in Warwickshire, but Warwickshire needs--

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes): Order. Time is up. 6.5 pm

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): Like a number of hon. Members in the Chamber this afternoon, I come from Kent, a county that faces a 1 per cent. cut in the delegated budget for schools. It is the first time that that has ever happened in the county of Kent. No provision has been made for any increase in the pay of teachers. It has been imposed by the Liberal Democrat-Labour pact which is now controlling Kent county council.

It is particularly disgraceful given that the Government funding for Kent county council is increasing by 2.1 per cent. in the coming year. One might ask why the council has got the county into such a predicament. During the first two years of control by the Lib-Lab pact, the co-chairs of education were breezing around the county

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playing Lady Bountiful and distributing sweeties to an extent that would have shamed Evita Peron. The council spent the £20 million windfall that arose from interest rates on the council debt being very much less than forecast. It blew those funds. It now faces finding some £6.5 million to pay for higher interest rates. Needless to say, the council does not have the money. It has blown the £10 million proceeds of land sales negotiated by the previous Conservative Administration. It has held sharp conferences at four-star hotels, such as the Great Danes hotel at Maidstone and the Imperial at Hythe, with left- wing academics and pressure group spokesmen. Those conferences cost thousands of pounds of council tax payers' money.

The council spent further thousands of pounds on

anti-grant-maintained schools campaigns and propaganda and, only recently, it spent £4,100 on propaganda leaflets sent to the parents of school children in Kent.

Perhaps the most criminal of all is the obesity of the central educational bureaucracy in Kent. In Kent, we are proud that 88 of our schools have decided to become grant-maintained--44 of them decided when the county was under Conservative control and 44 further schools decided to do so under Liberal and Labour control. Under the Conservatives, 174 administrators' jobs went. Under Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the central education administration of Kent county council has increased from 965 to 1,162 full- time equivalent staff. That is a 20 per cent. increase in the central administration of education that cost millions of pounds.

It is quite clear that the Lib-Lab pact has no intention to cut proportionately the central administration of education. Had it done so for the 44 schools that have gone grant maintained under its period of control, £6.5 million could have been saved and spent on the schools budget. It has not cut the central administration to reflect the departure of the further education colleges of Kent into independence or of the Kent careers service. Not only is it keeping up the spending on the central bureaucracy, it is increasing it. It has made no provision for an increase in teachers' pay, but it has made provision for an increase in the pay of the education bureaucrats right up to the overpaid director of education now spending his time on political campaigning.

Kent county council's bureaucracy is now so bloated that the county auditors have recommended an inquiry into education support and administration services and their structures. So determined has the Lib-Lab pact been to preserve the bureaucracy that in this year of cuts it has decided to make a provision of £480,000 to replace funds expected to be taken by schools when they become grant maintained during the course of the year.

Where has the Kent Lib-Lab pact decided to make its cuts? It has decided to cut 1 per cent. off school budgets. It has decided that there shall be no more discretionary awards for vocational courses at further education colleges and no more help for school transport for youngsters of 16 and older from poorer families going to their place of education. It has decided to cut 20 per cent. off adult education in the county and £2 million off school buildings maintenance. But it has decided to cut only £800,000 off central services. The cuts fall on the sharp end as usual.

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The cuts proposed by the coalition of the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats--I notice that the Liberal Democrat education spokesman is so embarrassed that he has abandoned his seat--

Mr. Don Foster: I am over here.

Mr. Arnold: The proposed cuts are so nasty that the two Lady Bountifuls-- [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. It is no longer possible for me to hear the hon. Gentleman because of the noise from the Opposition Benches.

Mr. Arnold: The Opposition parties clearly do not want to hear the facts. The people of Kent should be told what is going on. It is significant that the two Lady Bountifuls, the co-chairs, are nowhere to be seen. They have left it to the director of education to argue a political case for the Lib-Lab cuts programme. The cuts are provocative. They hit the public and the school children. They have been made for clear party- political reasons. They are a smoke screen.

We have heard speeches this afternoon from several hon. Members from counties and boroughs which may have been squeezed, but Kent has not. The politicians in Kent want to keep up with the Joneses and in order to do so they have hit Kent schools hard. They have cut £11 million from the education budget rather than from the bureaucracy. The grant-maintained school issue alone is worth £6.5 million. They could have cut the administration for further education and for the career service which is no longer provided. They could have cut the propaganda. I have asked the leader of the council to cost the conferences and the propaganda.

Several hon. Members rose --

Mr. Arnold: They could also utilise the underspent part of the education standard spending assessment which is the equivalent of £14.2 million.

Hon. Members: Give way.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. That is a decision that must be made by the hon. Member who has the Floor, not by others in sedentary positions.

Mr. Arnold: The Lib-Lab pact could have cut the £11 million from the £27 million of the central departments which also have provisions for a pay increase. It could have used the windfalls from lower interest rates and land sales amounting to £30 million which the Lib- Lab pact has blown. It could also use Kent county council's reserves.

Mr. Dunn: Can my hon. Friend confirm that the political leaflet issued by the director of education on the authority of the Lib-Lab co- chairmen was delivered to staff at grant-maintained schools but was not shown to governing bodies who had no knowledge of it, and that some head teachers in north-west Kent refused to deliver the leaflet because they felt it to be political?

Mr. Arnold: The leaflet was run out so fast that I am told that even the chief executive of the county council did not see it, so desperate was the Lib-Lab pact to pre-empt the results of its own folly.

Column 185

My only conclusion from this sorry disgrace of a cut in Kent's school budgets, which has never happened before, is that the Lib-Lab pact that is running Kent county council is either incompetent or playing politics.

6.14 pm

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East): I have no wish to proceed down the leafy lanes of Kent, which has been described as the garden of England. My contribution is the first to be made by an hon. Member representing a Welsh consistency.

The debate is most timely because there is a basic need to highlight the crisis in our schools brought about as a result of the local authority settlement. In the process, our children have been sold short and that in turn means that we will not reap the benefits of their potential tomorrow. Education is vital to Britain's international competitiveness and economic efficiency.

It has been said many times that charity begins at home. I have received a letter dated 6 January from Mr. J. P. Walsh, the Gwent county treasurer. He pointed out that when Gwent prepared its base budget it aimed to protect vital services such as education, but it was found that an increase of £14 million would be needed just to stand still and without restoring earlier cuts.

Under the settlement terms, Gwent county council was allowed to increase its budget by only 0.5 per cent., or £1.4 million. There was, therefore, a need to reduce spending by £12.5 million. Of that sum, £7 million will be taken from reserves, but the remaining £5.5 million will need to be found by making cuts. Mr. Walsh went on to say that for education that would mean a cut of £2.4 million and that schools could be affected. I took that matter up with the Welsh Office. On 26 January the Under-Secretary of State for Wales agreed that the settlement was tough, but he called for further efficiency improvements.

Long ago, it was said that it is the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches. I have received a letter dated 5 December from Mr. M. J. McCarthy, the headteacher of St. Gabriel's Roman Catholic primary school in my constituency. He pointed out that the recent inspectors' report on the school was highly favourable and that it was particularly pleasing to receive such a report because the school serves an economically deprived area.

Yet Mr. McCarthy said:

"We have recently heard that the schools budget for 1995-96 is to be substantially reduced and this despite careful management of previous budgets which have regularly produced a small surplus at the end of each financial year. The proposed budget reduction will result in the loss of one of the teachers who helps to make this school such a success. Resources will be stretched to the limit, the composition of classes will be affected and it will be more difficult for the remaining staff to provide the levels of care and support that have hitherto been the case."

Mr. McCarthy proceeded to call on me as the Member of Parliament for the area to intervene with the authorities on behalf of the school. The basic point that I wish to make is that the position in that school is the direct result of the self-described "tough" policy being implemented by the Welsh Office and the Department for Education.

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