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School Security

11. Mr. Edwards: What measures have been taken to enhance school security for 1998-99. [24191]

The Minister for School Standards (Mr. Stephen Byers): The Government are making available an extra £22 million in 1998-99 to improve security in schools in England.

Sir Patrick Cormack: Is the hon. Gentleman sure of the numbers?

Mr. Byers: Absolutely, yes; it is two times 11, I think. That sum is in addition to the £6 million provided through our new deal for schools.

Mr. Edwards: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer. Does he agree that a secure environment is essential for learning and for teaching, and that vandalism is far too common in our schools? May I assure him that all the schools in my constituency in Monmouthshire will greatly welcome the Government's commitment to allocate additional resources and specifically to improve school security?

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Mr. Byers: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's questions. This year, Monmouth has received some additional resources to help with school security. We have to put the interests of children and school staff first, which is why it is vital for the Government to ensure that they have a secure environment during school hours.

Mr. Evans: I am sure that the Minister will agree that it would be even better if seven times £8 million pounds were spent to help secure our schools. Do the Government have any plans to encourage local education authorities to visit some of the schools in their area to test security? It is all very well for schools to make an assessment of their own security needs, but parents would be reassured if an independent assessment of schools' security needs were made urgently.

Mr. Byers: This is an important matter, about which I am sure all hon. Members are concerned. The working group on school security is still considering the matter, and I will draw to its attention the hon. Gentleman's suggestion. He is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that parents feel confident about the school environment in which their children spend many hours a day.

Mr. Drew: Does my hon. Friend recognise the particular problems faced by schools in rural and semi-rural areas? Although they may not have the same order of problems, they still--because of isolation--need to be secure. Will he ensure that moneys reach the more rural schools? Anything he can do to ensure that that happens will be welcomed.

Mr. Byers: I assure my hon. Friend that, when we make our decisions on allocating money for school security under phase 2 of our new deal for schools--which will have a school security element--we will be conscious not only of what are perhaps to many people the more obvious needs of schools in more urban and built-up areas but of the specific needs of isolated rural schools. All schools need a secure environment. Although it is important that schools do not become fortresses, we have to get the balance right and ensure that our children receive education in a secure and safe environment.

School Repairs (Lewes)

12. Mr. Baker: What plans he has to help tackle the backlog of repairs to schools within the Lewes constituency. [24192]

Mr. Byers: As a result of the Budget statement on 2 July 1997, we expect that an additional £2 billion will be spent through our new deal for schools. Moreover, in 1997-99, East Sussex local education authority will receive a capital allowance of over £21 million to support building improvements.

Mr. Baker: I am grateful for that answer. However, does the Minister realise that, after 18 years of underfunding by the previous Conservative Government, schools in my constituency--indeed, across East Sussex--have a huge backlog of basic maintenance and repairs? Although the news that he has given us is welcome, the problem will not be solved. Does he realise

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that many small village schools have real, specific and considerable needs even though they are rarely at the top of action lists? I am thinking of village schools in my constituency such as, for example, Wivelsfield, Newick and Upper Dicker. What comfort can he offer to them? Will he press the Prime Minister and his other colleagues to lift capping, so that local authorities can do the job that they know they want to do?

Mr. Byers: The very important element of our new deal for schools funding is that it is making grant available to local authorities and to schools for building purposes. As it is grant, it will not count against a local authority's cap, making the capping regime irrelevant in the new deal. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that 15 schools in his own constituency are covered by East Sussex's application for the second phase of new deal funding. If that application were to be successful, it would make a very real difference to the quality of education that children in his constituency are receiving. We are confident that, with the new deal phase 2 for our schools, we will provide a quality learning environment, which we believe will play a vital part in driving up standards in our schools.

Mrs. Browning: Given that the hon. Member for Lewes (Mr. Baker) has raised specific questions about local education authority schools such as those in East Sussex, what is the Minister's response to the letter sent only yesterday to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment by the general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who lists East Sussex as an LEA threatening cuts? The letter lists other LEAs, many of them Labour-controlled, that will not be spending all their additional allocation on education and schools, and states:

We hear words, words and words from the Government, but education is not a high priority in Liberal Democrat and Labour-controlled LEAs up and down the country.

Mr. Byers: I join the hon. Lady in condemning East Sussex for failing to pass on the money that it has been given by the Labour Government, which we believe should be spent in the schools of East Sussex. However, I am sure that she will be aware that East Sussex is under Conservative control, so she needs to make representations to her political colleagues in East Sussex and urge them to ensure that the money that the Labour Government have given East Sussex--

Mr. Ian Bruce: No, they have not given it.

Mr. Byers: They have given it. East Sussex has the money, but Conservative councillors there are refusing to pass it on. New deal funding is grant so it does not count against the local authority's cap.

Out-of-school Child Care Initiative

13. Mr. Gapes: What assessment he has made of the out-of-school child care initiative. [24194]

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Alan Howarth): In 1997, the Government commissioned a third evaluation of the out-of-school child care initiative to assess the extent to which schemes have become financially viable and to examine the factors affecting their viability. The report was published on 22 January and a copy has been placed in the House of Commons Library.

Mr. Gapes: I welcome the Government's commitment to double funding for the out-of-school child care initiative, but can my hon. Friend assure me that more efforts will be made to ensure that resources reach the poorest and most disadvantaged communities with the worst deprivation?

Mr. Howarth: My hon. Friend expresses his characteristic concern for the most disadvantaged of his constituents. The previous Government would support provision under the out-of-school child care initiative only when a scheme could demonstrate that it would be self-sustaining within a short period. Only this morning, I discussed that and other child care issues with representatives of training and enterprise councils. They want more attention to be given to developing local capacity in deprived areas over longer time scales and to supporting parents in low-income households to meet the costs of child care. I fully recognise the force of what my hon. Friend and the TECs have said.

New Deal Pathfinder (Black Country)

14. Mr. Cranston: What reports he has received on the progress of the new deal pathfinder in the black country. [24195]

Mr. Andrew Smith: I have received weekly reports on the new deal pathfinders, including the one in the black country. I was pleased to visit Dudley last month. It is early days, but the programme has made an encouraging start, and I thank my hon. Friend for his active involvement locally.

Mr. Cranston: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will know that last Friday I visited Dudley zoo, which has just taken on one of my constituents, a young man who had been unemployed for seven years. How can we further involve small and medium-sized enterprises such as Dudley zoo in the new deal?

Mr. Smith: When I visited Dudley, I met representatives of business, including small businesses. There will be an active marketing campaign, locally and nationally, to get as many employers as possible signed up. We are also working through the sectoral business associations and bodies such as the Federation of Small Businesses have pledged their support to ensure that as many small businesses as possible are involved. My hon. Friend recounted the story of his constituent, and such instances bring home just what a difference the new deal will make to people's lives. That is why we need it and why it is such a good programme.

Mr. Baldry: Does the Minister accept that unemployment rates in Dudley, as elsewhere in the

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country, are coming down fast, as the Secretary of State said recently? As a consequence of Conservative policies, unemployment fell by 28 per cent. over the past year. Is not the real problem in Dudley and elsewhere that employers are increasingly facing skills shortages? Will the Minister give an undertaking that the Department will keep under review the amounts spent on the new deal and whether some of that money could be better used by TECs to help with more skills training? Otherwise we shall have the ludicrous situation of money being spent where it is not needed and not spent where it is needed.

Mr. Smith: Despite the welcome fall in unemployment, far too many people are unemployed--especially young people--and for everyone who remains unemployed, that unemployment is 100 per cent. They need all the help that the new deal will provide. We are implementing the right programme at the right time for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gives. When the labour market is tightening and firms are finding it difficult to recruit workers with the skills that they need, a programme that equips young people with training and skills so that they can help to fill those vacancies will not only benefit the young unemployed but will be good for business.

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