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Representation of the People

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Representation of the People

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst) : I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 7 February, pursuant to Order [7 November 2000].


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

European Parliament

Question agreed to.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],

1 Feb 2001 : Column 556

Hon. Members: Object.


Motion made,

Hon. Members: Object.


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [23 January],

Hon. Members: Object.



7.25 pm

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North): I wish to present a petition bearing 2,099 names on behalf of Kathy Howell, other residents of Derby, North, and Parrot Line.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

1 Feb 2001 : Column 555

1 Feb 2001 : Column 557

Education SSA (Worcestershire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Allen.]

7.26 pm

Sir Michael Spicer (West Worcestershire): I hope that the Minister for School Standards will not respond like a parrot to my supplication.

There is no rhyme or reason to the present method of disbursing education funds in this country, except history. In Worcestershire, a Conservative-led local education authority historically ran an efficient and tight budget. It did so especially in the 1970s and 1980s, in contrast with Labour-controlled authorities. The spending patterns of its budgets were subsequently set in stone through the workings of the rate support grant formula, even though circumstances have radically changed since.

The formula is obscure and incomprehensible. It is based not on real needs or genuine costs, but on history and the perceived view that it would be unacceptable to rock the boat by changing the existing pecking order between LEAs. The dynamics of the position are that those who receive least receive relatively even less as time goes by. Thus Worcestershire is third from the bottom in a table that lists SSA per primary school pupil in 34 counties. In other words, it received the third lowest SSA increase in last November's round. That has happened not because Worcestershire's education needs are less than those of Dorset, Cambridgeshire or even neighbouring Gloucestershire or Warwickshire, but because that is the way it has been. Moreover, unless something changes, that is the way it will continue to be.

The fig leaf that is used in an attempt to give respectability to that procedure is the concept of the area cost adjustment formula, which is meant to compensate for different costs in different areas. It is nonsense, however, for at least two reasons. First, the largest cost element in education is, overwhelmingly, teachers' salaries, which are nationally determined and are the same for all areas. Secondly, even the marginal cost differences that are built into the formula are often spurious.

I cannot find any differences in cost or needs between, say, Wiltshire and Worcestershire, yet Wiltshire is 23rd on the county league table of secondary school recipients and Worcestershire is 31st. Nor can I find great differences between near-neighbouring Oxfordshire, which is in eighth place, and Gloucestershire, its neighbour--and, indeed, Worcestershire's--in 28th place. It is a dog's breakfast, and the Government know it.

I presume that that is why, on 30 April 1997, immediately before the general election, the then Leader of the Opposition declared in an interview with the Cambridge Evening News:

Four years have passed, and all that has happened recently is the publication of a Green Paper on modernising local government finance. In that document, the Government appear to recognise the grossly distorted and unfair method of treatment that is built into the area cost adjustment formula and, therefore, into the disbursal of education expenditure. The Green Paper promises that the Government will present some concrete suggestions for remedying the position. However, they will not do that before 2003-04.

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Meanwhile, even if we dismiss some of the cruder calculations of the additional amounts that schools in Worcestershire should receive when compared with the national average--the figures run into hundreds of thousands of pounds a year even for primary schools--under the current arrangements unless class sizes increase dramatically, budget shortfalls lie ahead. That is true even if they are unplanned. The capacity to raid repair and maintenance budgets, where they still exist, is running out.

The skill of government is the ability to differentiate between special pleading, which is undertaken for its own sake, and a genuine grievance. There is no doubt that the latter is true for education in Worcestershire.

All Governments have a duty to tackle such gross lack of parity in treatment. It is also sensible for them to do that. The citizens of this country will stomach an awful lot but they will never accept irrational inequality of treatment. That is shown by the hundreds of furious letters that my hon. Friends who represent Worcestershire constituencies have received on the subject in the past week or so.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): Is my hon. Friend, like me, experiencing the largest ever lobby campaign on any issue in his parliamentary career? I have received more than 1,000 letters protesting against a predicament that was bad four years ago and has got much worse.

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