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Mr. Kevin Hughes: Only just.

Mr. Betts: We are part of South Yorkshire for objective 1 funding purposes, and we receive that funding as one of the poorest areas of the country with one of the highest levels of unemployment. It is therefore an absolute nonsense, when the standard spending assessments are decided and the grants given out, that our per capita grant should be below what is given to many more affluent parts of the country. That is not acceptable, and I am sure that all hon. Members with South Yorkshire constituencies are committed to fighting for a change in the system. We respect and recognise what the Government did in their first term to improve the situation, but the system is still not fair. We will continue to fight for that fairness.

The care of the elderly by local authorities still gives cause for concern. It has to be accepted that funding for that care is still too low. Under the caring Liberal Democrats, Sheffield city council has told those of my elderly constituents who cannot get in and out of the bath but who could use a shower if they had one that they cannot have money for the necessary alterations if they are able to have a strip wash. That is official council policy. I do not think that that is anything like first-class public service provision. It is a denial of people's basic human rights. That is something else that I want to challenge.

I do not regard as anathema the proposal to bring the private sector into the provision of public services. In some cases, it is right to do so, but the public oppose

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threats to privatise those tasks where public sector workers do a first-class job. That is what is happening with Sheffield's refuse collectors. Not only does such a move put a good public service at risk, but it says to public service workers that no account will be taken of how well they do their jobs when it comes to deciding whether they should continue to provide the service. That is worrying, and my colleagues in Sheffield and I will continue to speak out about it.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): Is the council Labour controlled?

Mr. Betts: It is controlled by the Liberal Democrats. They opposed privatisation when they came into power.

I have always been concerned about housing. Like me, other hon. Members will have found, during the election campaign, that people understand that the Government have established the minimum wage and the working families tax credit, and that they have increased child benefit and created more jobs. On some estates, however, people live in homes and an environment that has not changed much.

It is not that the Government have not made improvements: in the past four years, for example, Sheffield's housing capital budget has doubled, rising from £20 million to £40 million. The problem is that the repair backlog is so long that the work that is being done hardly scratches the surface.

In my constituency--where the housing is by no means the worst in Sheffield--people still live in homes where the windows are warped, where water comes in through the roof and where there is no central heating. The Government's commitment to put all rented properties into a proper state of repair by 2010 is right, but it must not be assumed that, to achieve that, millions of people will automatically vote to transfer their homes to alternative landlords.

In Sheffield, the reality is that people want to remain with the council, regardless of its failings and inadequacies. They believe, however, that remaining with the council should not prejudice their chances of having their homes put into a decent state of repair. That is a challenge for the Government to overcome.

I favour the option of establishing companies wholly owned by local authorities, in whose management tenants could be involved. That is an exciting and attractive way forward, but the Government may have to be more flexible about how they allow private investment in such homes, as is the case with housing association properties. Tenants in Sheffield want a level playing field.

There will be some very real challenges over the next four years. We have made an excellent start in many areas, and that is why we have been re-elected, but the electorate have made it clear that they want more to be done, as standards are not high enough yet. The Labour party's campaign theme was that much had been done, and much more remained to be done. There is much more to do to raise standards in our public services. That will be the challenge for the Government over the four or five years of this Parliament.

6.9 pm

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), freed now from the constraints of Trappist silence on the Front Bench,

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reminds us, as have others, of the importance of delivering higher quality public services to the people whom we represent. Our constituents challenge us about the democratic process and ask how we represent them. When we tell them that we will make representations and fight for better services, for their road to be mended and all the other things that matter to them, but then fail to deliver, they switch off and say that the process is incapable of responding to their individual needs. That represents a major challenge for us as democrats. We must address the low turnout at the general election.

As a member of the last Conservative Administration, it is important to put on record that the Conservative party was never against public services. [Laughter.] Labour Members laugh, but I will pick from what we introduced one example from which the Secretary of State for Health has benefited: the private finance initiative or public-private partnership. If it had not been for problems introducing one Bill, we too could have boasted achievements in that area in new hospital building. I wish that we had achieved that, but I congratulate him on taking a good idea forward and delivering what we all want for our constituents, which is improved public capital, whether for health, education, transport or other services. That idea was invented on our side of the House, not the other.

It was the Conservative party that introduced local management for schools. In the Gracious Speech there are proposals further to devolve moneys back to schools. We pioneered that idea because we realised the importance of improving the delivery of education locally and that the way to achieve that was to give more responsibility financially to individual schools.

It was the Conservative Government who put 16,000 more police officers into service to improve community safety. Sadly, we had some good ideas in the general election, but we may have talked a little too much about tax cuts and not enough about our good ideas for improving health and education. The Conservative party has some lessons to learn.

In the House yesterday the Prime Minister talked about the extra teachers, doctors and others who, he claims, will deliver enhanced public services. I want to address whether that is possible by putting some of the numbers into perspective. We are told that the Government intend over the lifetime of this Parliament--not next year or the year after, but over the lifetime of this Parliament--to introduce 10,000 more teachers. The Library tells me that there are 204 education authorities. Over five years that represents on average just 10 extra teachers per authority. To apply the same logic to the 20,000 classroom assistants who are required, that works out at just 20 extra classroom assistants per year, per authority. [Interruption.]

The Secretary of State for Health is mouthing something from a sedentary position, so I will move on to doctors. If two thirds of our 10,000 doctors go into the hospital sector, that represents 6,000 doctors. If that number is divided between our 500 health trusts, there will be two and a half new doctors per year per trust. When the same logic is applied to nurses, there will be just eight per year per health trust. That puts in perspective the Government's rhetoric. They are fond of throwing large numbers around in an attempt to convince the public that that alone is the solution to better quality

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public services. I question where these people are to come from and whether they will be delivered in time. I suspect that we shall be disappointed.

The Secretary of State for Health avoided the difficulties that he ran into on waiting lists. He said that waiting lists were out and waiting times were in. I noticed that he did not talk about outpatient waiting times--the time it takes to see a consultant.

I looked at the figures year on year for the Blackpool Victoria hospital trust, our major acute trust, and I found that in 16 of the 20 specialties, there had been a dramatic increase in the number of weeks that patients had to wait to see a consultant. For example, in paediatrics there was a 69 per cent. increase in the number of weeks to see a consultant, in neurology 54 per cent., in cardiology 62 per cent., in care of the elderly 58 per cent. and in gynaecology 67 per cent.

Have there been any improvements? Yes--remarkably, in orthopaedics there has been an improvement of 31 per cent. and in ophthalmology of 27 per cent. Why? Because those were the only two specialties affected by the clinical priority-distorting waiting list initiative. Those were the only two areas to benefit from extra resources, and some of those resources have now gone.

People will want to see some improvement, but I doubt whether the Secretary of State will be able to deliver to the Blackpool Victoria hospital trust in the next four years the number of additional consultants necessary to meet those requirements. I hear staff at that hospital trust speaking about the differences between the hospital's financial situation and that of the local health authority, to the extent that the hospital is £1 million down on its budget.

I hope that the Secretary of State and his colleague, the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), will devise some way of avoiding brush wars between hospital trusts and health authorities when each side has a different view of funding. It is not a question of extra provision, but of providing the money to deliver even basic services, notwithstanding any improvements that might result--though I doubt it--from the Secretary of State's proposed Bill.

On education, I had meetings with primary school heads before the election. I welcome the fact that the Government are committed to a report on red tape, but I see nothing in the Queen's Speech to deal with the shopping list according to which head teachers will judge whether there has been an improvement in public services. They agree that they have had more money than ever before, but they have had more work as well--too many assessments, no value-added tables, too much concentration on preparing children for tests, and not enough on education in the round, too much demand for planning, too many initiatives and too much prescriptiveness from the centre. Unless those problems are remedied, those teachers and the parents who speak to them will not perceive that there has been any improvement in education.

What about the issue of popular schools? The Government have not tackled that. Many parents recognise quality and want to send their children to such schools, but there is nothing in the Gracious Speech to suggest how that trick is to be pulled. On secondary

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education, I smiled wryly when I learned that the Government want more specialist schools. I already have one--the Lytham St. Anne's high technology college.

I spoke to the head teacher, who is waiting to find out whether he will ever get a dining room big enough to accommodate more than one sixth of the children at any one time. He is worried because he does not have the funding to deliver the new AS curriculum. Because of the problems of his budget, he struggles to deal with educationally disturbed pupils. There has not been investment in the infrastructure of his school commensurate with the number of extra pupils going into that establishment. For him, the Bill announced in the Queen's Speech will be irrelevant. For the parents of children at that school, the Government's proposed measures will be irrelevant unless the issues on the shopping list are addressed.

The problems faced by Lytham St. Anne's high technology college are faced by many other schools. The Gracious Speech offered no comfort as regards the future of that school's sixth form. The best that Labour could do in its manifesto was to promise that in real terms, funding would be maintained for sixth forms. There was no commitment to maintain sixth forms. When I wrote to the local learning and skills council to ask whether it had a policy on sixth forms, it could offer no policy and no guarantees.

I shall deal finally with community safety. Many people judge the quality of our public services by the safety of the communities in which they live. We have spoken about police numbers. The increase in Lancashire will barely keep up with the number of officers retiring, and the number who are sick or on light duties means that the Lancashire force is 10 per cent. down on the numbers that it should have. In one ward in my constituency, Ingol, it is a struggle to provide one community beat officer, and when local people ask that officer to take action to deal with people who ought to be the subject of anti-social behaviour orders, the officer is hard pushed to keep up with the challenge. That story can be replicated over a large part of this country. I see little in the Queen's Speech to address the issue.

There are three words about public services that we need to take into account: quality, responsiveness and customers. There are issues of quality. Some have talked about old people. I have seen many cases of run-down social services failing to serve the needs of the elderly. We need to improve quality in that respect.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, we must learn to be more responsive if we are to understand how our public services can be improved. Above all, we must recognise that the people whom we represent are the customers of those services. We are not here to do them a favour; we are here to fight for the best public services for them. I shall certainly support measures to achieve that objective, but I see little real progress on that score in this Queen's Speech.

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