Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. William Cash (Stone): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Caroline Flint: No, I shall not give way because I am conscious of the lack of time.

The course that we have charted is about a vision of sustainability for the future. It is about looking not just to the next general election, but to five or 10 years' time. In many areas, it will take time to build services that we can all be proud of. I can vouch for the fact that we have seen the benefits of the first three years of this Government. Until we have a general election, the money that has been announced will ensure that we can invest even further in the resources and services that my constituents so badly need.

20 Jul 2000 : Column 628

6.9 pm

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): I want to contribute briefly to the debate, further to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Chisholm).

First, on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I congratulate the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) on his excellent maiden speech. He seemed to be able to bring his speech to a natural conclusion just when he was about to be called to order. He will look at Hansard tomorrow and see all the congratulations, but I assure him that this place is extremely tolerant and he does not always have to live up to the standard that he has set in his maiden speech.

I shall come back to the provocation of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith, which made me take part in the debate.

The hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) gave an important warning that we should consider the wider economic situation, because we live in a far more inter-dependent economic world, where grand gestures from Governments are far less likely to go unpunished than they used to be. There is an interesting contradiction in some of the arguments put by Conservative Members. They first referred to previous announcements from the Chancellor when they had looked at the funny money figures and found that there was actually no new money, and then they referred to warnings from the Bank of England that Government spending will cause inflation. Either it is real money, which will cause inflation, or it is funny money, which will not.

It is important to recognise that we need a far more open way of examining the figures. The spending review document, with all its mistakes, does not inform the public about what is happening to their money and how it is being spent. We need a far better debate that informs the public. If we are to have investment in public services--which is what I believe people voted for at the last election when they saw what was happening to their schools and hospitals--we need an honest and open debate on how the public finances will achieve that.

In my constituency, we still need additional investment to pay for the teachers to do the teaching. Teachers have disappeared from schools, and specialist teachers need to come back and provide the previous level of service.

There is a problem with stop-go investment. The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon) talked about the problem faced by one of his constituents who was trying to get an MRI scan. We need professionals to run the scanners, but if we are not training enough professionals we will not have the people to employ even with the extra money. The lack of planning and foresight in the recruitment and training of new graduates is a serious strain on many of the professions in the health service. There will not be a miracle cure, and the public need to know that there is a long way to go to get the health service into a stable and effective format.

Sadly, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith is no longer present. He referred to the three strands of Liberal Democrat thinking on the Barnett formula. For the record, I shall bring them together into one. At the passing of the Scotland Act 1998, the Liberal Democrats made it clear that we wanted a period of stability, and that we should build on the recommendation of the constitutional convention, which was that the Barnett formula should be

20 Jul 2000 : Column 629

the basis of funding in the new Scottish Parliament. We said that we would stand by that for 10 years. However, in the long run, we need fiscal responsibility to go with political devolution. Financial devolution requires us to review the way in which we fund the nations and regions of the United Kingdom, and to recognise the need to devolve financial responsibility. That does not remove the requirement for a needs assessment to ensure that the parts of the United Kingdom that are seriously challenged and face serious extra costs are not also affected by an equalisation formula.

The second point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith concerned the report on poverty produced by the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. As a member of that Committee, I am glad that some hon. Members have already read it since it was published yesterday. I look forward to the Government's response to its recommendations.

While recognising the importance of the working families tax credit in tackling poverty, I am concerned that in the long run employers may see it as an employment subsidy. If people get the working families tax credit, why should employers increase their wages when they know that the state will make up their take-home pay? What is the Treasury doing to monitor the impact of the working families tax credit on wage levels? Does it have any contingency plans if an effect is spotted?

6.14 pm

Mr. Mark Todd (South Derbyshire): I am sorry to have missed the maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), but I was taking part in a debate in Westminster Hall. I shall read his contribution in Hansard with interest. It was clearly not to be missed.

I welcome the benefits of public spending in my constituency in the past three years. The most noticeable impact has been on the quality of the built environment of schools that serve South Derbyshire. I recently attended with pride the laying of the foundation stone for a new, replacement infant school at Newhall funded by the new deal for schools. That programme is opposed by both Opposition parties, as it was funded by the windfall levy.

I first visited that school just before the 1992 general election. Then it was a collection of 20-year-old temporary units with ceilings held up by pit props. The outside toilets were temporary structures which smelt of urine. Sadly, the 1992 general election gave the people of South Derbyshire no hope for change and we had another five years of Tory Government in which little changed for that school. The temporary buildings were occasionally patched and repaired and the worst were replaced by slightly more modern temporary structures.

With the election of the new Labour Government hopes rose. After an initial disappointment in the first new deal round, a visit to the then Schools Minister, now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, by the head teacher, the chair of governors and myself prompted a successful bid which will provide a new school and an arts centre for the neighbouring William Allitt secondary school. It is but one of the projects awarded in my area. Altogether well over £6 million has been committed to

20 Jul 2000 : Column 630

school improvements in South Derbyshire since Labour was elected in 1997. That contrasts with the last year of the Tory Government, when slightly less than £100,000 was spent on schools in my area and we thought ourselves extremely lucky to achieve that. Therefore, it is clear why I hold great store by what the Government seek to do in public spending and have little regard for the criticisms and comments that we have heard thus far in this debate and debates earlier this week.

With that amount of money committed to new school buildings in South Derbyshire we can start to provide an environment to match the quality of teaching that is already offered to our children, and indeed to my own son.

I wish to make some broader comments on public spending, how we prioritise it and how we manage it. While we would mostly subscribe to the necessity of focusing resources on need, we must recognise three disciplines that should be followed. First, it is easy to confuse need with failure and to siphon scarce resources into areas where need indicators show deprivation, but where analysis shows poor strategy and badly managed delivery. I thus welcome the increased emphasis on performance targets and the greater concern shown for the better co-ordination, management and use of resources.

Secondly, our tools to identify need must be subtle. I represent a constituency with relatively low needs indicators overall, but with pockets of deprivation. Thus it seldom attracts special programme support. We have no action zones, no sure start and no early excellence centres. Although my constituents understand the need to help areas of deprivation, they are frustrated by their inability to attract resources to provide additional services in the less prosperous areas of South Derbyshire such as parts of the Hartshorne ward.

Thirdly, we must always recognise that the raising of public money for public spending and its use involve an unspoken pact with citizens. While prioritising and targeting are a duty of Government, we must recognise that all citizens expect a basic level of support and service. We must be careful to strike a balance lest we damage that compact. There are many examples. Although one recognises the need to target resources to schools with exceptional costs and needs, wide variances in funding per pupil of well over 10 per cent. in the primary sector are hard to justify to local taxpayers. Likewise, it is hard to explain why Derbyshire should continue to have far fewer police officers per head of population than the average county. One might also draw out examples in our social security system where targeting negates the concept of mutual insurance--that we all pay collectively to cover risk and expect reasonable payment.

I am also concerned about how we manage public spending. We have learned that commitments to spend, particularly when private finance initiatives are involved, do not mean actual delivery of projects. We must clearly devote more attention to developing skills in managing public spending and in particular in managing complex projects. Civil service reform and development of political skills, where they relate to project management, are critical.

I applaud the spending review and welcome the disciplines within it. It offers the prospect of further qualitative and quantitative improvements in service for my constituents. I have spoken of my pride in one key development in my area--certainly the greatest pride that

20 Jul 2000 : Column 631

I have experienced as a Member of Parliament--and I am confident that, with this spending review, there will be many more occasions on which I can feel that same pride in the achievements of this Government.

Next Section

IndexHome Page