Education (Outturn Statements) (England) Regulations 2003

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The Minister for School Standards (Mr. David Miliband): I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) and get things done quickly. Indeed, I am relieved to meet his concern. Generally, however, when I wonder whether a sitting is necessary it is because I have not read the documents, although I am sure that that does not apply in his case.

I can deal swiftly with the legitimate points that have been made. The outturn regulations are given statutory force under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. They deal with the information that local education authorities are required to publish at the end of their financial year and bring it together in a single format. The good news about this year is that it is less bureaucratic because of the alignment of the section 52 outturns under consistent financial reporting, which the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West knows will help us to analyse school budgets in a serious way. The structure of the tables at the back of the document shows the purposes that the information will be put to. Those are obvious for parents, LEAs and, indeed, the Government.

With your permission, Mr. Benton, I shall address just the questions that were raised, because I do not believe that the regulations are controversial. It is important that we enable direct comparison from year to year. The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, West will be pleased to hear that we are not introducing substantive change in the tables. The shift from capital to revenue that might be undertaken by schools, as opposed to the shift by local authorities

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from revenue to capital, will be shown in the financial reporting data. He is concerned also about pensions and national insurance. They obviously appear in the row dealing with teaching costs.

Mr. Brady: Will they appear in a disaggregated form, or as a total?

Mr. Miliband: They will appear as a total. We know the cost of changes to teachers' pensions. In a previous encounter, I told the hon. Gentleman that it would be £586 million, but he had a departmental answer showing that it would be £523 million. So, the cost is known, but figures will obviously vary from school to school, depending on the age profile of the teaching force. That itself will change from year to year, so one must be careful when analysing the figures.

Mr. Brady: The Minister is generous in giving way again. The fact that the figure changes from school to school and from area to area is precisely why we need the information in a disaggregated form.

Mr. Miliband: With respect, it comes rather too late in that form to help to inform the decisions that the hon. Gentleman is legitimately concerned about—namely, the predictability and stability of school budgets. He will be pleased to know that we are working not only with the local authorities, but with the head teachers' and other associations. We want a sensible dialogue with them to ensure that everyone understands the cost pressures that will exist in future years—in as much of a disaggregated form as possible.

The final question was about timing. Our experience is that all local authorities work hard to get the information in by 10 October. They do not all succeed, but I hope to have all the data by the autumn. However, when local authorities send the data to us, they are already public.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I take it from the Minister's earlier remark that he is concluding. Before doing so, will he deal with a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West? Does the Department have an underspend? If so, how much is it?

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Mr. Miliband: The hon. Gentleman knows that the Government want schools and local authorities to move to three-year budgets. All spending in the Department is committed, but the precise point at which it is spent is deliberately—

Mr. Brady: Obscured.

Mr. Miliband: No, not obscured. It is made more flexible, and for a simple reason. Under the old system of annual spending, during the last three or four weeks of the year Departments rushed to spend their money on desks and other items that could be easily purchased, so that their funds could not be raided by other Departments or by the Treasury. It is far more sensible to have a three-year budgetary cycle. It is absurd to pretend that money committed in one year to be spent in the next is an underspend or is not being used properly.

Mr. Clappison: Was that a yes or a no?

Mr. Miliband: The answer is that the hon. Gentleman should study more carefully how the education system works. He should understand that we are spending money better, not wasting it, as he alleges.

Mr. Clappison: Will the Minister please boil down his answer to yes or no?

Mr. Miliband: The answer is that the hon. Gentleman is wrong in his allegation.

Mr. Clappison: We are in danger of becoming existential if I can ask a question and then be told that I am wrong. It is a yes or no question, so is the answer yes or no?

Mr. Miliband: If the premise of the question is wrong, a yes or no answer is unsuitable. I think that I have addressed all the points raised this morning. The regulations are not contentious, and I suggest that we adjourn for breakfast.

Question put and agreed to.


    That the Committee has considered the Education (Outturn Statements) (England) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003, No. 1153).

Committee rose at nineteen minutes past Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Benton, Mr. Joe (Chairman)
Bayley, Hugh
Brady, Mr.
Cawsey, Mr.
Clappison, Mr.
Cox, Tom
Dowd, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs.
Laxton, Mr.
Miliband, Mr.
Osborne, Sandra
Pollard, Mr.
Pugh, Dr.
Twigg, Derek

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