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Connexions Service

5. Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): If he will make a statement on the involvement of voluntary and statutory youth services in the new Connexions service. [132589]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks): The Connexions service will work very closely with both the statutory youth services and local voluntary organisations. That is vital to the success of Connexions and is therefore central to our policy.

On Monday, the 16 partnership areas invited to run the Connexions service from April 2001 were announced; they will, in total, receive £47 million more than the careers services in those areas currently receive.

Mr. Hope: I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. He knows of my concern that the youth service was neglected and underfunded for so many years under the Tories. The Connexions service offers a real opportunity to combine the careers and youth services to provide a good transition from childhood to adulthood for many young people. Can my hon. Friend assure me that youth workers--who are being used in and embedded into the service--are not diverted from the effective youth work that they would otherwise be doing and that some youth projects will not fall by the wayside as an unintended consequence of the way in which the new Connexions service is being implemented?

Mr. Wicks: We are ambitious about the future of the youth service. Whether it is statutory, voluntary or both, it is the way to study ways to prevent some of the

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problems that face our young people. We should recognise that despite the excellent youth service work, the system nationally is patchy--some of it is not up to scratch. I hope to say more about the future of the youth service and its vital role in relation to Connexions in the coming weeks.

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead): I also welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Speaker, and wish you well in the challenges that lie ahead.

Connexions brings together the youth and careers services--the personal advisers. However, will the Minister confirm that advisers have been told to focus their work on disaffected young people and that as a result the mainstream majority of average to bright pupils who need careers advice will now be neglected? Is the Minister proud of creating a new group of socially excluded?

Mr. Wicks: I will not confirm that statement because it is simply not true and it will mislead parents and teachers. Connexions has a major aim to help each and every young person aged 13 to 19 to make informed choices about learning options, education, the world of work and careers--each and every young person. Every school will get its fair share of the Connexions service. Within that, we have a special mission to help those young people who, because of socio-economic disadvantages, are not getting a fair deal. The Connexions service will also have a special mission to help young people of high ability--the particularly gifted--to make choices about learning. It is a universal service for each and every young person, with a special focus on helping those particular needs. That is the truth and it is important that we state it.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney): I welcome Monday's announcement that more than £300,000 is being allocated to Suffolk to set up the new Connexions service in my constituency and others. On the careers choice element of that service, does my hon. Friend agree that as well as looking at leaflets and ticking boxes to work out what interests them, our young people can also benefit when people from industry, public services and the armed forces go to schools, not merely into colleges? They can inspire young people to pursue such career paths. I have not seen that happening as much as it used to do. Will my hon. Friend give guidance to promote that sort of careers advice?

Mr. Wicks: It is important that schools help young people to understand the economy and the world of work. Schools and Connexions need to work together to raise the quality of that sort of experience. Yes, there should be the traditional work experience, but as my hon. Friend says, we should enable people in different professions and occupations to go into schools and establish links with them. More companies and public services should help schools with that endeavour. It is an important point.

School Transport

6. Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): If he will review the requirements on local education authorities in respect of home-to-school transport. [132590]

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The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): Each of us has welcomed and congratulated you, Mr. Speaker. I am sure that one thing you will do is spot recidivism. I therefore congratulate the hon. Gentleman on asking the same question three times. The answer remains the same, at least in its preamble. We have no plans to review the legislation on home-to-school transport. The school travel advisory group has recommended a number of ways to promote more affordable, safe, environmentally friendly and acceptable forms of transport and, with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, we shall wish to pursue those.

Mr. Heath: Consistency is a virtue, is it not?

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the present system is the single biggest cause of friction between parents and local education authorities? It causes chaos outside many schools and penalises rural local education authorities. Roads and social conditions nowadays are very different from what they were in 1944. Is it not time that we had a serious look at the situation and produced plans for a comprehensive integrated system of the sort that so many other countries enjoy?

Mr. Blunkett: I am strongly in favour of those at local level--schools and local authorities--considering a more integrated and imaginative way of dealing with that matter. However, 800,000 pupils use school transport every day and the latest estimates are that about £444 million of local and national money goes into school transport. It is a very complicated issue, which is why we have advised members of the hon. Gentleman's Front-Bench team not to say lightly that it can be delegated and devolved to schools, which could not co-ordinate, organise or produce exactly the kind of plans that the hon. Gentleman appears to be encouraging us to take up this morning.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): Congratulations and welcome, Mr. Speaker.

Can I persuade my right hon. Friend to continue with the impetus for a national strategy? He has been working closely with DETR, but the issue is important for children's health and safety and for reducing the dreadful congestion on our roads. This half-term, people can drive freely and quickly around the country, but they cannot do so when parents are taking their children to school. This is an important health and safety matter, and I hope that my hon. Friend continues his work with DETR to make a real change to benefit children's health.

Mr. Blunkett: First, may I apologise for transferring the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) from one party to another in my remarks about the Opposition Front Bench. I shall keep my fingers crossed for him at the general election.

My hon. Friend is entirely right--the safety and environmental issues are considerable. It is also important to ensure that there is less traffic on the roads at peak times is also important. Anyone who travels during this half-term will be aware of the difference that school runs make, especially in core cities. We therefore need to

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examine how to integrate the way in which we encourage walking and safety, together with a reduction in pollution and congestion on our roads.

Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): I congratulate you on your election, Mr. Speaker.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the great safety issue with regard to school transport, which concern many parents, in that although vehicles are rightly fitted with seat belts, there is no one in authority to ensure that children use them? Parents beg children to do so; schools tell children to do so; but given that drivers must concentrate on driving only, more often than not children do not belt up. What can be done before there is a terrible accident, after which everyone will say, "This should not have been allowed to happen".

Mr. Blunkett: As the hon. Lady will be aware, following tragedies in the past a tremendous campaign was run and agreement was reached on the provision of seat belts in vehicles that transport schoolchildren. We all--parents, not simply teachers--have a responsibility to educate children in the safe use of those vehicles. We cannot supervise children all the time in and out of situations that are external to the school, but we can encourage and support those who have influence over children--the prime educators, including parents--to get it right.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I add my congratulations on your election, Mr. Speaker, and offer you best wishes for the future.

Buses on which children travel to school are not fitted with seat belts in all parts of the United Kingdom. In fact, there is real concern among parents that their children are at risk, especially when standing in buses. What assessment has been made of the cost of a policy of ensuring that every child travelling to school on a public service vehicle is guaranteed a seat fitted with a seatbelt?

Mr. Blunkett: I do not have that information, but I will write to the hon. Gentleman. However, the contracting systems often lead to the lowest contract price being chosen. That is a real issue in some parts of the country. We are aware of the difficulty in ensuring that we match safety and cost in an acceptable fashion.

There is no doubt that translating every available public service vehicle to other uses--that, of course, is part of the effort to integrate school transport into the wider transport needs of dispersed communities--would be very expensive. I shall, however, consult my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and write to the hon. Gentleman with the information that he seeks.

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