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Mr. Wilshire : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point of order has been rather spoiled by that motion not being moved, because I was going to ask whether there was anything in our Standing Orders that would enable us to congratulate a nice little mover on a job well done.

Madam Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the Chair.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Although the Whip on duty has not moved the motion, would it be open to other Members to move it in his place?

Madam Deputy Speaker: It is not open to any other Member to move that motion.

Mr. Luff: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. It looks unlikely that there will be deferred Divisions on these statutory instruments, because we could neither debate them nor vote on them. I understand, however, that further statutory instruments that have been considered in Committee will be on the Order Paper tomorrow. Judging by the behaviour in Committee, Divisions might be sought tomorrow—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying into a debate, rather than making a point of order. I must bring him to order.
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      Middleton on Sea

8.18 pm

Mr. Nick Gibb (Bognor Regis and Littlehampton) (Con): I have great pleasure in presenting a petition signed by more than 3,200 residents of Middleton on Sea and the surrounding area in my constituency. The petitioners are concerned about the poor state of repair of the coastal defences that protect Middleton on Sea from flooding, the lack of funding to repair those coastal defences and the change in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' priority scoring system in late 2002, which significantly reduced the likelihood of funding for the essential improvements to the sea defences. I am grateful to David Szynowski and the committee of the Middleton on Sea Association for their work in collecting the signatures.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Education Funding (Leicestershire)

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

8.20 pm

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): We have not yet heard all the debate on education funding in Leicestershire, notwithstanding what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed), who I know intends to take part in the debate. I want to welcome in particular the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan), who is concerned about the issues that I wish to raise.

I welcome the fact that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg), will respond to the debate. It is probably an old joke, but I suppose that he is part of a branch of Education Ministers, given that I was expecting his namesake, the Minister for School Standards, the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg), to take the debate.

"Education, education, education" was the mantra that we used to hear before the general election in 1997. The people of Leicestershire now regard that as all talk. I have had a lot of letters from teachers, among others, saying that they voted Labour in 1997 because they believed what they were told about "Education, education, education", which produces a hollow laugh.

Almost exactly two years ago, on 4 March 2003, I led a debate on exactly the same topic in Westminster Hall, as the situation in my constituency and throughout Leicestershire was so dire. The Minister for the Cabinet Office replied to the debate, without great courtesy. Subsequently, I spent some time trying to get a meeting with the then Education Secretary, now the Home Secretary, who finally granted a meeting with a cross-party delegation. Contrary to many newspaper reports, he was extremely courteous and helpful. I have always found him to be so in my dealings with him. I put that on the record, as some people accuse him of being less than always cuddly, if I may put it that way. What I particularly remember him saying, referring to education funding in Leicestershire—he said it several times, and it was reported in newspapers—was that this must not happen again. Well, it has happened again, and for the third year running.

This afternoon, the current Education Secretary promised clearer budgets and unparalleled stability for schools. We have heard it all before. As a bit of window dressing, the previous debate is unsurpassed, because if people examine the programme motion, they will see that it says:

Perhaps there will be a Committee discussing the Education Bill on 14 April, but somehow I doubt it. What we have heard today on the Education Bill is all fluff and nonsense, and electioneering by the Government.

The Government have made many promises on education, including the undertaking to make education funding,

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The sentiment might be admirable, but it is nothing like the reality. I am speaking on behalf of the teachers, governors, parents and children of Leicestershire. They deserve a fairer deal.

Leicestershire has the lowest education formula spending share per pupil of any LEA in the country. On average, the FSS per pupil in Leicestershire is 13.63 per cent. below the national average. Leicestershire county council tops up education spending by £10 million to make up for the inadequacy of Government funding. That is fine, but if Leicestershire were funded at the average for shire countries, a typical 200-place school would receive an extra £48,000. If it were funded at the same level as Leicester city, just across Braunstone lane, which divides the city from my constituency, such a school would receive a massive £126,000 more. That is a staggering imbalance. Were Leicestershire to receive the same funding level as the English average, it would receive £90,000 extra. Were the county to be funded to the same extent as the city, by central Government funding through the FSS, the county education authority would receive more than £50 million extra. One does not have to be well versed in accountancy or education funding to know the difference that £50 million can make.

The consequences of this funding imbalance are clear. Performance is affected. This year, Leicestershire county council has had to negotiate with the regional Department for Education and Skills representative to lower its education targets because they have been set unrealistically high given the dire funding shortfall. That means, for example, delays in maintaining and replacing equipment, and less investment in new technology, inevitably, as there is less money to spend. Recruitment and retention become difficult. Schools in my constituency—I shall refer to one later—already face redundancies and staff shortfalls.

Understandably, in such circumstances, low morale is a problem. I have been particularly occupied recently by letters from teachers, as the Under-Secretary will know, protesting about changes to their pensions. We understand that there is a demographic problem in relation to people living longer. Nevertheless, once somebody has signed up to employment conditions, changing those employment conditions unilaterally, as is happening with local government pensions and teachers' pensions, is, to put it mildly, undesirable. Furthermore, in small schools especially, classes are becoming larger, with less individual attention for children who need it.

I suggest that the Government are failing in their assessment of basic entitlement by focusing too much on deprivation—entitlement is being assessed from the top down, rather than from the bottom up. The recommendation of the F40 group of the poorest-funded authorities, with which I am sure the Under-Secretary has had dealings, is that the entitlement should be determined on the basis of what it costs to educate a pupil. That seems to me to be pretty fair.

We also think that the basic entitlement has been set too low. The Government have tried previously to blame inadequate funding on local authorities. As I have said, however, Leicestershire is spending an extra £10 million on education, and the Government claim that it does not pass on adequate funding to schools through passporting. That is grossly unfair, certainly to
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the LEA in Leicestershire. Recent Government policy has had the effect of reducing the authority of LEAs to direct the funding of schools in their area. The recent report of the Education and Skills Committee, "Public Expenditure on Education and Skills", criticised the Government for that, saying that the proposed changes would not help to solve the school funding problems. It went on to say that that would lead inevitably to greater central Government interference.

In addition, there is too great a disparity between LEAs. I have mentioned the differences, but let us consider the neighbouring counties with similar problems as well as good sides. In the coming year, Leicestershire is to receive on average £160 more per pupil while Lincolnshire, which is next door to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton, will receive £247 more per pupil.

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