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6.5 pm

Mr. Michael Foster (Worcester): I am pleased to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and to hear him refer to conversion, particularly his conversion to depoliticising decision making. I suspect that, when a former Chancellor considers the depoliticisation of decision making, it is because he has plans for a long-term career permanently in opposition.

The test raised by the debate is whether there have been improvements in public services since May 1997, and that is the point that I will consider in my speech. I will describe what the people of Worcester have seen the Labour Government do since May 1997.

In the battle against crime, police numbers have gone up. In the 12 months to September 2001, an extra 88 police officers were found for West Mercia and, just last week, a further 13 extra were allocated to the Worcester division from the crime fighting fund. The distinguished newspaper, the Worcester Evening News, proclaimed:

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I accept that the West Mercia police authority has relatively few police officers per head of population. It is important in the battle against crime to see a greater and more visible police presence on our streets. Therefore I pay tribute to Chief Superintendent Simon Adams of Worcester division for his innovative work on Operation Terminate, which was specifically designed to put police officers in highly visible clothing into the city centre late at night when many disturbances take place. That helped to cut crime in Worcester city centre considerably.

I said that West Mercia has relatively few officers per head but, since May 1997, funding for the authority per head of population has risen by nearly 22 per cent. That is against an average of almost 17 per cent. We are starting to make up ground, and my constituents and I are grateful for that. The chief constable of West Mercia wants an extra 100 police officers, and I support his view. I ask my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench to take note and to support the chief constable in his aims.

Extra police officers are only part of the answer. In Worcester, a Home Office grant provided £640,000 for investment in closed circuit television. That will make the city centre and the car parks servicing the city centre safer. The system will be run from the brand-new police station that was opened by Her Majesty the Queen in March last year. A new police station, new closed circuit television and extra police officers are all contributing to the fight against crime.

Antisocial behaviour orders also support the police in the battle against crime. However, I have to point to their non-use in Worcester. West Mercia has the highest rate of issue of such orders per head of population, but only one has been issued in Worcester. The Conservative- controlled city council, with its independent lapdogs, claims that the procedure is at fault and that this explains the failure to issue such orders. I disagree and, more important, so does the chief executive of Worcester city council, who wrote to me on 11 December 2001 to say:

Worcester city council


It is the lack of commitment by Worcester city council that is responsible for the lack of the issue of ASBOs.

On the health service, much has been said in the House and outside about health care in Worcestershire. I do not intend to reopen old wounds as regards the debate surrounding acute services, but more nurses, doctors and consultants now work in the NHS in that county. They deserve our full support and our help in tackling the challenges that face us. Waiting lists and waiting times are falling, but I accept that there is much more to do before we have a national health service that we want our constituents to thank us for.

The House has a long history of listening to Worcester Members of Parliament who want assurances on the future of the new district general hospital. The people of

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Worcester have been on a promise for more than 40 years regarding a new hospital. The Conservative Government promised, promised and promised again to build the new hospital, and they failed to deliver. They introduced the private finance initiative, and failed to build a single hospital. In the 1997 general election, I supported the PFI as a way to build Worcester's new hospital.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke: To be fair, Worcester's new hospital was one of the principal objectives that we had in mind when we developed the PFI, and we had advanced discussions on that. New hospitals are not built in four years flat. Worcester has a new hospital because the plans that began when I was in office and the Conservatives were in government came to fruition in Worcester. It is absurd to pretend that that was suddenly invented after 1997.

Mr. Foster: The manifesto platform on which we stood for election was to reform the PFI to make it work. I well remember Conservative health spokesmen saying in that general election that Labour would not deliver the new hospital. We said that we would, and I am pleased and proud to say that in two months' time patients will start to move from the Victorian building that is Castle Street and the second world war Canadian army hospital that is Ronkswood into a new hospital that will be the envy of the country. It is just short of four years since the first sod was cut by my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson). The hospital has been delivered on time and it should be seen as a model for the way in which health care will be delivered.

Two years ago I was pleased to participate in the launch of a new CT scanner for Worcester's hospital, which represented a £400,000 investment, paid for by the NHS. It replaced the CT scanner that was bought in 1988 which was financed by public donation. In 1988, begging bowls had to be sent around Worcester to collect money to pay for a vital piece of health care equipment. That is another example of the difference between the Conservative party when it was in power and the Labour party when it is in government.

I like to think, as a former member of the teaching profession, that I have a great understanding of education. I pay tribute to teachers and support staff for the improved results in our schools since May 1997 at key stage 1, key stage 2 and GCSE level. Worcester has always benefited from consistently good A-level results at Worcester sixth form college and Worcester college of technology. More than anything else, the Government are delivering higher standards for our young people. We are also delivering better buildings and a better environment in which pupils can learn and teachers can teach.

Chris Grayling: Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the concerns that are being expressed by head teachers and teachers around the country about the burden of bureaucracy that the Government have imposed on them? I hear that again and again when I visit schools. I do not think that I have been to a single school without that issue being raised. Can the hon. Gentleman really be confident that the Government's policies are doing the right thing for the education profession when our teachers are so frustrated with what they are doing?

Mr. Foster: Before I was elected, I was a school governor at a high school in Worcester. I remember the

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head teacher's frustration at having to decide which members of the teaching staff to make redundant. It was not a case of facing the challenges of recruiting extra teachers and support staff to our schools. The Government are making a difference to educational opportunities for young people.

Worcester college of technology has just bought the old police station in the town to provide more classroom space. Worcester sixth form college recently had a new teaching block opened by the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), who was a former member of staff at the college. The education maintenance allowance, which is being piloted in Worcestershire, means that more 16-year-olds are staying on in our colleges. Their results are better, not only in terms of their achievements, but in terms of their retention rates. I am keen to see that rolled out across the country.

University college Worcester has just had a £2 million sports hall built for community and student use. It will house national and international teams. Importantly, it plays a big part in a project, with which I am associated, to widen participation in education. It uses sport as the tool to get young people from disadvantaged backgrounds into university and on to the campus so that they get a taste of university life. In that way we raise the aspirations of young people in all our schools.

The school system has undergone a remarkable investment programme in Worcester city. Let me give a few examples of the extra investment that has gone into capital infrastructure projects as a result of the new deal programme for schools. Elgar high school now has a lift for the disabled. Bishop Perowne school refurbished its craft, design and technology facilities. Perdiswell primary had all its warm air heating replaced. Cherry Orchard primary implemented a £75,000 project to refurbish its library. Christopher Whitehead high school completely refurbished its showers and changing rooms. Pitmaston primary, Dines Green primary, Redhill primary, Our Lady Queen of Peace primary, St. George's Roman Catholic primary, Cranhan primary and Ronkswood junior all received emergency replacement of their fire alarms and safety equipment which was necessary because of the state of their buildings.

Pitmaston primary has replaced its mobile classrooms. Nunnery Wood primary has a new classroom extension and Gorse Hill primary has two new classrooms. Lyppard Grange also has two new classrooms and Northwick Manor is in the process of completing a three-classroom permanent replacement of mobile classrooms. Nunnery Wood high school is about to have two new science laboratories built. St. Barnabas primary will have four new classrooms completed later this year, and St. Clement's primary will have two new classrooms completed.

Those examples are testimony to what is being delivered by the Labour Government. The acid test is what has happened since 1997, and we are seeing improvements. However, I must tell Ministers—I know that they are sympathetic to this—that there is concern in Worcestershire about revenue funding for education and the standard spending assessment. I am pleased that the Government intend to reform the SSA. The indicative increase in SSA this year of 6.1 per cent. is a record for the county. Worcestershire has never had an increase that large. I am delighted that we can make a real comparison

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between the increased investment in schools and the cuts that we experienced in Worcester in the 1990s. The legacy of underfunding in our schools is holding back educational achievement in our county, but it is not the only reason for a lack of achievement.

In the early 1990s, when the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Secretary of State for Education, we had a Conservative-controlled county council that was proud of its record of low spending. It boasted that it returned money to the Government and spent less than the standard spending assessment. That decision cost schools and pupils in Worcestershire nearly £50 million. I cannot remember whether the right hon. and learned Gentleman objected to the decision by the locally elected Conservatives—he may tell me—which ensured that Worcestershire did not have adequate nursery provision. Only now is nursery provision starting to be enhanced by the Labour Government's investment. All four-year-olds have places at nursery schools and, increasingly, three-year-olds have places as well, which will help us to deliver a better education service. The budget for adult and community learning was cut in the 1990s because it was discretionary expenditure. As a result of that cut, poor nursery provision and a low base of revenue funding, Worcestershire does not do as well as it should. With the support of the Government, I am determined to raise educational standards in the county.

The debate about the state of public services should have taken place in the early 1990s, but Conservative MPs from Worcestershire kept quiet. If they were ambitious, they realised that that was in their best interests; if they held office, they boasted about the low funding of Hereford and Worcester county council. To them, value added, which should be a measure of educational standards, meant delivering average educational performance from below average funding. In government, the Tories were good at low spending and low achievement. We must guard against that in future and never ever let people in Worcestershire forget.

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