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9 Dec 2002 : Column 25—continued

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): I am, as ever, grateful to the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. He knows that most of it was a series of re-announcements, including welcome news on early years and further education. I shall concentrate on the small amount of new material that he produced. It is clear that he wants to appear in a seasonally appropriate role as an early Father Christmas for schools. Sadly, the wrapping is more enticing than the contents of the package. Behind the rhetoric, the right hon. Gentleman is making artificially inflated claims for all areas of this country, and, in some areas, schools and pupils will rightly feel betrayed by the way in which he is fixing the distribution.

It is perhaps appropriate that the Secretary of State is making this statement on the day on which the Department has been forced to admit that it is missing

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more than half the targets that it has set itself on school standards. Even when the Government are in control of the figures, they fail to meet them. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will understand, therefore, why today's announcement will be greeted with an appropriate degree of scepticism.

I want to ask the Secretary of State about some of the issues that affect every part of the country. The first concerns the extra costs that his Government have imposed on schools, but which did not feature in his statement. Will he confirm that, next April, schools will have to find another #79 million simply to meet the employers' element of the national insurance increase that the Chancellor announced in his last Budget? Will the Secretary of State also give the House some idea of the scale of the extra money that will be needed to make up the value of pension funds for teachers and other local education authority staff—pension funds whose value the Chancellor has done so much to erode?

Will the Secretary of State also confirm that there is an element of double counting in the increases that he is claiming? Specifically, has money been taken out of the standards fund—where it was already available for schools—transferred to the LEA budget line, and then claimed as an increase in the money available to schools through the LEA? Schools may well feel that this is an act not of generosity but of accountancy. While the Secretary of State is contemplating the standards fund, will he also confirm that, after the Government's most strenuous efforts at deregulation and cutting red tape, the number of funding streams within the standards fund has been cut from 71 all the way to 65? Today, he says:


It takes some cheek for the Department to talk about improvement in outcomes on the day when it has admitted that it is missing most of its own targets. Will the Secretary of State explain what will happen to schools that miss their targets? Nothing happens to Ministers who miss theirs. Will he claw back the standards fund money from such schools?

Why has the Secretary of State not responded more to the real desire both in schools and LEAs for more local control of spending? He made much of this in his statement, but, frankly, he protested too much. Does he agree that, in 1997, the central ring-fenced grants were just 4.5 per cent. of the schools budget? His predecessors increased that figure to 13 per cent., and he has done nothing like enough to bring it down. Centralised control is blighting our schools, and when he preaches about reform, he should start close to home, in his own Department. While he is doing so, perhaps he could answer a question that his colleague the Minister for Local Government and the Regions failed to answer on Thursday. Why has #250 million disappeared from the schools budget between the Chancellor's spending review and this statement?

On reforming the system of performance-related pay, the Secretary of State said that, from 2005–06, the money for teachers who pass the threshold would be devolved to the schools budget. Will he give schools an assurance that that money will be available to them

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between now and 2005–06, particularly for the upper pay spine, which is causing severe problems in many schools?

Every school in the country has reason to feel that the Secretary of State is trying to sell them a false prospectus, but some schools and pupils will find that they have been singled out for unfair treatment at the hands of the Government. Last Thursday, it became clear that the Government were declaring war on the shire counties, and those areas come out of today's statement particularly badly. There are a number of examples of this, but I will stick to one that is close to home for me: the treatment of Kent. On the Government's own figures, the increase per pupil is 3.2 per cent., but the effects of the teacher's pay settlement, the pensions problem, and the national insurance increase mean that schools will be facing a cost increase of 7 per cent. just to stand still. So pupils in Kent, including poor pupils, deprived pupils, and pupils from ethnic minorities, will lose out. So much for New Labour's ridiculous claim to be have become a one-nation party.

What we see today is a classic new Labour con trick—shouting about what they are giving with one hand, while staying silent about what they are taking away with the other. It is a con trick the Government have tried many times, but they will find that the House and the British people have seen it all too often before. The Government will be judged by what happens in our schools, and after five years, it is a test that they continue to fail.

Mr. Clarke: Talking of con tricks, the hon. Gentleman is trying to con the country with his suggestions about my announcement today of a real-terms increase in schools spending of more than 17 per cent.—7 per cent. next year, then 4 per cent., then 5 per cent. It is extraordinary that he should do so given that we all know that he is not prepared to commit himself to a single penny of those increases—indeed, interviews given by his party leader and others in this period imply further reductions in education spending rather than the increases that we have announced.

As for the shire counties, I, too, represent a shire county seat—Norwich, in the shire county of Norfolk. The response of Norfolk's Conservative leaders to the settlement was to say that it was a good deal better than they had expected after the propaganda put out earlier by Conservative Front Benchers. I hope that the hon. Gentleman notes and appreciates, as I do as a representative of Norwich, the various aspects of our agreement that encourage local authorities to focus resources on real educational need in their area.

The hon. Gentleman raised some specific points. Yes, the pensions amount is fully covered in the way that I indicated. As for the amounts from the standards fund, we are reducing the number of elements in that fund. I set out reductions in that area continuing during 2003–04, 2004–05 and 2005–06. That is being done because we accept the argument from head teachers that we need a less complicated system of school funding and the removal of some of the separate streams. We are carrying that through, but I make no apology for the process that we have followed, which is to put in money

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to galvanise the system—for example, the primary literacy and numeracy strategy has made a significant material difference to education standards compared with the position that we inherited. That is also true of the question of greater local control—I stated the figures on that and will not repeat them; and on performance-related pay, I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance he sought.

In short, I think that this is a profound and solid statement, which shows the continuing commitment, not only of the Government over the next three-year spending review period, but of every school in the country. Schools will have a three-year programme that they can develop to raise standards. Never before have they had a three-year commitment in advance. That is a tremendous achievement and I am proud of it, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman can only sneer, rather than join in trying to raise standards in our schools.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): We will not begin our response to the statement in so churlish a fashion. We welcome any additional spending on our schools, and it is rather sad that the Conservative spokesman cannot simply welcome those additional resources.

We welcome the capital resources, but how much—what percentage—of the grant announced today is PFI capital? We welcome, too, the 250,000 child care places, but will the Secretary of State confirm that they will be quality places and not summer play schemes, as was the case previously? We welcome the #1.2 billion increase in the FE budget, but will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that that money will not meet the 14-to-16 element of the new 14-to-19 proposals, but will be entirely for use within the traditional FE sector?

We welcome the three-year budget certainty, but that certainty rings rather hollow in the absence of advance knowledge of results from the School Teachers Review Body or the manual pay round. Will the Secretary of State make sure that the results of those pay rounds are announced before the traditional December settlement, not afterwards? We welcome the move away from ring-fenced grants to core budgets. We regard that as an admission that previous Secretaries of State have got it badly wrong by trying to dictate from the centre how everything is spent.

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, when the fog has lifted from today's statement, we will see a #400 million deficit on the figures announced in the comprehensive spending review in July, rising to #530 million next year? How much will be cut from the CSR amount in 2005–06?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that 9 per cent. of the 7 per cent. increase for schools will be met from council tax—[Hon. Members: XChurlish!"]—and that council tax payers will therefore finance a significant part of the settlement? Will he confirm that schools will have to meet the costs of the #600 million transfer of pensions liability from the Treasury? Will he confirm that local authorities will have to meet the entire cost of special educational needs statements for 2004–05—[Hon. Members: XChurlish!"]—and that the quantifiable resources agreed in the new code of practice simply mean the transfer of the budget to those authorities?

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Where does the statement mention resources to meet the 100 per cent. pledge on specialist schools, which we welcome and the Secretary of State has guaranteed? Will he agree to drop the #50,000 entry fee for the specialist programme?

Finally, will the Secretary of State tell us why he has refused to accept the activity-led formula, which was agreed by all bodies from Ofsted to the teacher organisations, rather than returning to the historical base for the allocation of resources to primary and secondary schools?

Notwithstanding those few deficiencies, we welcome the statement. [Laughter.]


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