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Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I have listened with some interest to what the hon. Gentleman has been saying about this complex situation. Will he answer one or two questions in the course of his remarks? Is it true that in this year's financial settlement Vale of Glamorgan council will receive less money than it did last year? Is it true that the council, the heads and all the teaching unions--the National Union of Teachers, the National Association of Head Teachers, the National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers, UCAC--the Welsh teachers' association--the Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Secondary Heads Association--have agreed a concordat under which no teacher will be made compulsorily redundant and no class size will be increased? That is the result of consultation between the vale and all its teachers. The head teacher who represents all the head teachers has written to the Western Mail

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saying that reports of things such as the hon. Gentleman is now saying are a load of rubbish and that they are disconcerting the teachers--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris): Order. Interventions should be less than a minute.

Mr. Sweeney: I will not say that I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the situation. Vale of Glamorgan council has known, or at least the Labour leadership has known, for several months that the council was running over budget in education. It should have taken some pre-emptive action as long ago as last November to deal with the overspend, instead of confronting schools at the last minute before the budget is due to be fixed, with the appalling prospect of ghastly cuts. If a deal has been stitched together which will ensure that no teacher losses will occur, that is wonderful news for the people of the vale, but until it is confirmed by the council, I remain extremely sceptical about it.

Indeed, if the cuts are not to be made, why is it that, as recently as 5 March, we were faced with a proposal to sack about 45 teachers? I can only speculate that what has happened is that the Labour leadership has experienced such a barrage of criticism and abuse from the public, who are rightly extremely upset about this politically motivated punishment of their innocent children, that the message has got across that such behaviour is unacceptable. Why is the council's Labour leadership so blind to the realities of life and the importance of children and education that it has only just woken up to the strength of public concern?

My school visits have revealed the widespread anxiety about the increased class sizes that will result if teachers are sacked. One head of department at a secondary school pointed out that it is often not possible to sack the weakest member of staff, because there may be a shortage of teachers in his or her specialist subject area; thus, excellent teachers may be lost. Some school buildings are very poor, with cramped portakabin classrooms which will be physically overcrowded if four or five extra children have to be crammed into a class.

I am furious that Councillor Stringer is attempting to shift the blame for the incompetence of his own council in arranging its budget on to the Welsh Office. I have read Councillor Stringer's "Budget Update 1997--Council Tax News", in which he falsely claims that the council is faced with "massive budget cuts". That brings me to the other point raised by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). My inquiries at the Welsh Office have revealed that the standard spending assessment for Vale of Glamorgan council has been increased by 1.8 per cent. to £95,846,000. Under provisional capping principles, the council can increase its 1996-97 budget by 4 per cent. to £97,404,000. I understand that Vale of Glamorgan council does intend to spend up to its capping limit. It is therefore a fraud on the electorate for Councillor Stringer to claim that the council is faced with massive budget cuts and to imply that the Welsh Office is to blame.

Even allowing for inflation, there is only a tiny reduction in Welsh Office funding, which is entirely consistent with the Government's policies of expecting the public sector to achieve efficiency savings. Everyone in the private sector has to do that. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bridgend continues to speak from a

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sedentary position, but a tiny reduction in the budget is hardly the massive reduction claimed by Councillor Stringer. It is the height of irresponsibility and incompetence for Vale of Glamorgan council, which is totally dominated by Labour councillors, to produce a budget that will hurt all the children in Vale of Glamorgan by damaging their education prospects while, at the same time, trying to blame the Government.

If the hon. Member for Bridgend is correct to say that, now, none of the damage in terms of teacher losses is to take place, why have the parents, teachers, governors and children of Vale of Glamorgan been frightened witless by misleading information?

Mr. Griffiths: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Sweeney: No, we have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman--he was wrong on both the points he raised, and I must press on with my speech.

I am well aware that Councillor Stringer claims to have received a rough deal on the disaggregation that followed the abolition of South Glamorgan county council. Perhaps, instead of bleating about that a whole year after South Glamorgan council was abolished, he should address his remarks to his Labour colleague Councillor Russell Goodway, who appears--if Councillor Stringer is to be believed--to have negotiated a better deal for the people of Cardiff than Councillor Stringer managed for Vale of Glamorgan.

I fought long and hard for the abolition of South Glamorgan county council, because it did not give to Vale of Glamorgan the priority that it deserved. It was a remote authority, excessively top-heavy in bureaucracy, which deprived the people in the vale in order to spend money on the pet schemes of the majority Labour group in Cardiff. That was why I wanted to get rid of that council and have our own unitary authority in Vale of Glamorgan and, of course, I welcome the fact that that has happened.

What worries me now is that Vale of Glamorgan council seems to be making mistakes similar to those made by South Glamorgan county council. We all recall that South Glamorgan council was near the top of the league for receipts for education spending, but near the bottom of the league for the amount actually spent on education. When the figures are published, I shall be interested to see how much Vale of Glamorgan council is spending on administration and what proportion of the education budget is actually getting through to the children who matter most.

Another excuse offered by Labour councillors in the vale is that the formula whereby central Government resources are distributed to local authorities is unfair to Vale of Glamorgan. I point out that the distribution formula for 1997-98 was ratified by the Welsh Consultative Council on Local Government Finance. I assume that that body is even more heavily dominated by Labour supporters than Vale of Glamorgan council, so I can only speculate as to why Councillor Stringer, as a Labour council leader who also happens to be the agent for the Labour candidate for the Vale of Glamorgan constituency in the forthcoming general election, has been so ineffectual in persuading the consultative council that Vale of Glamorgan is hard done by.

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My hon. Friend the Minister will be well aware that we have some excellent schools in Vale of Glamorgan, with good teachers, parents and pupils. We also have some good and conscientious governors, although it is a source of great regret to me that, due to the policy of Vale of Glamorgan council, Tory governors have been largely excluded. It is also a matter of regret that most of the governing bodies have not supported the principle of grant-maintained education, which could have done so much to help all the schools in my constituency.

My hon. Friend will also be aware that schools in Vale of Glamorgan are performing better than the Wales average, with 46 per cent. achieving five or more GCSE grades A to C, compared with 42 per cent. in Wales as a whole. The average A-level and AS-level point score is 17, compared with 16 in Wales as a whole. The performance of 11-year-olds has put the vale among the top three authorities in Wales, with 52.5 per cent. achieving the key stage 2 performance indicator, compared with 45 per cent. in Wales as a whole. I pay tribute to the parents, teachers and pupils in my schools.

Mr. Griffiths: And the local authority.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Sweeney: Unfortunately, I do not feel inclined to pay equal tribute to Vale of Glamorgan council, as that high level of achievement is unlikely to be maintained and improved unless the council spends more of its budget on education and finds ways of cutting administrative costs so that individual schools will receive more money.

It is appropriate for me to draw the attention of the House to some examples of profligate spending by Vale of Glamorgan council. It bleats about savage, but non-existent, cuts in its budget by the Welsh Office, when in reality it is spending money like water. I learned only today that the council is contemplating spending more than £1 million on refurbishing four leisure centres in the vale, at a time when, according to my information--I hope that I will be corrected--45 teachers face redundancy. The council has spent about £100,000 on a new foyer; it has built a new hospitality suite for councillors; and the new group room for Labour councillors has displaced officers, which has led to new office accommodation having to be rented. The council is spending about £60,000 on Barry Town football club. What makes me unhappy about that is that free tickets are distributed by the club to some privileged councillors.

Pagers, fax machines and mobile phones have been freely distributed. The leader of the Labour council receives a pager, a fax machine and a mobile phone. The deputy leader receives a fax machine and a mobile phone. The chief whip receives--

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