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David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Robathan: It is kind of the hon. Gentleman to refer to me as his hon. Friend. I always get on well with him. Of course I will give way.

David Taylor: I refer to my hon. Friend thus because he is my hon. Friend.

My hon. Friend—as I have called him—compares Lincolnshire with Leicestershire, but although it bears some similarities to the sparsely populated area in north-east Leicestershire, Lincolnshire has much more sparsely populated areas overall. It therefore contains more smaller primary schools with higher unit costs. Must that not be recognised in the central grant formula? Must not Lincolnshire receive more because of that?

Mr. Robathan: I have already said that I think deprivation has a part to play. I shall mention other issues shortly, but I have a list here, from which I see that North-East Lincolnshire—the first authority that I have stumbled across—receives 10.7 per cent. more funding per pupil than Leicestershire. The hon. Gentleman may think that that is reasonable, but I do not. I shall explain why in a moment.

The transitional funding offered by the Government does not get Leicestershire out of its difficulties, either. In the current financial year, which is about to end, Leicestershire receives £3.5 million. In the coming financial year it will receive only £1.8 million, despite being the lowest-funded education authority in the country.

Let me say something about city pupils. My constituency marches with the city. I think Loughborough does as well, but perhaps it does not, in which case my constituency is the only one that does. Across the borders of the city every day come nearly 4,600 pupils, because—I am afraid—Leicestershire provides better education, notwithstanding the vast amounts that have been poured into the city for whatever reasons. The point is that the money allocated per pupil to the city does not travel with the child. Nor, indeed, does the city receive the funding. Money allocated to education through the formula spending share disappears back to the Chancellor of the
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Exchequer. That does not seem right. Either the children deserve the money spent on them which the Chancellor of the Exchequer and various other Departments put aside at one stage, or they do not.

Let me say something about the so-called school work force agenda. Because of the Government's policies, other burdens are about to fall on schools at the same time as lower funding. What is described as PPA—planning preparation and assessment—is a jolly good policy, and I am all for it, but it has to be funded. As of September, schools will have to cater for it. Many schools have written to the Government to say that they will be unable to bear the costs. Perhaps the Minister will tell me how many Leicestershire schools have written to the Secretary of State. I understand that 10,000 parents have signed a petition which they will send to No. 10 Downing street, although I have not yet seen it. A high school and a primary school—I will not name them, because I have not spoken to their head teachers—have applied to the county council asking to go into deficit until 2008.

Classroom assistants are also not funded in Leicestershire. I visit schools where I am told that the classroom assistants are having to be laid off. The cost of a teacher is determined by a national pay scale, so the cost is the same in Leicestershire as it is in Leicester city. Staff costs comprise between 80 and 85 per cent. of the costs of most schools. We accept that there are regional differentials—London is probably more expensive, and I would guess that people there are paid a supplement—but the cost of computers, heating, books, grass-cutting and whatever else requires expenditure is basically the same. Although local differentials exist, the current system exaggerates them.

The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) mentioned sparsity. There is a good deal of sparsity in the village schools that are scattered around his constituency and mine. We understand that Leicestershire is prosperous, but why must it be penalised to such an extent? We also understand that someone will be a loser: someone will be at the bottom of the pile. What I want to know is how such a differential can be justified.

Worse still, the county council tells me that the new system that is out for consultation—I think it is in the Education Bill, which we have just been discussing—will make matters worse.

David Taylor: This is about more than money, is it not, important though that is? The results for Leicestershire, not including the city, are in the top quartile for all LEAs, and in the past 18 months or so its LEA has been highly rated by Ofsted. This is about not just cash but leadership, drive and commitment.

Mr. Robathan: I agree entirely—it is a question of much more than cash. I pay tribute, as the hon. Gentleman doubtless wants to do, to the Conservative-controlled LEA that is so well run that it has received praise. Moreover, David Parsons and Ivan Ould do an excellent job in managing the county council. If one can get a well-motivated teacher, the quality of teaching can be absolutely splendid even in a mud hut, with no fuss
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as to whether the air conditioning is set at the right temperature, for example. Indeed, I have witnessed as much in Africa, although in fact, the buildings there tend to be shacks with corrugated iron roofs. That said, in general we would rather have well-funded teaching as well.

What this Government have done, for which I give them credit, is to increase teachers' pay. Teachers' pay is better than it was seven years ago—as one would hope, given that there has been some inflation since then. Indeed, MPs' pay is also better than it was then, but the hon. Members for North-West Leicestershire and for Loughborough would not know that because they were not here in the days of the previous Conservative Government.

David Taylor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robathan: Oh, go on.

David Taylor: The time stretches before us until half past 10. While the hon. Gentleman is giving credit for the changes achieved since 1 May 1997, perhaps he will agree that the single most substantive change is that annual capital expenditure in Leicestershire, which was £3.8 million in 1996–97, has gone up almost tenfold since then. Surely that is a significant bonus to Leicestershire.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman will doubtless tell the good people of North-West Leicestershire—I am sure that they write to him on this issue, just as they write to me in Blaby—that everything in the garden is rosy and absolutely fantastic. I was going to mention this later, but I will tell him now about a primary school that I visited last summer—[Interruption.] I happen to know that one of its governors, to whom I spoke, most certainly does not vote Conservative and nor, I think, does the head teacher. I was told, "We are having this fantastic new classroom built, involving huge capital expenditure—you can see it over there. Perhaps you would like to come to the official opening; in fact, perhaps you might like to open it." As it happened, I could not attend. "Unfortunately," they said, "although we will have this nice new classroom, we don't have the funding to pay for a teacher to go in it." That is telling, and I am sure that the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire has similar stories from his own constituency.

I do not want to name individual schools unless they have gone public on this issue—to do so would be invidious without their permission—but I shall refer to a primary school that I visited earlier this year. It has minimum guaranteed funding of more than £350,000, which is a large budget. The shortfall that the head teacher is looking to address is more than £48,000, which is enormous—nearly one seventh of the budget. She had to make 1.2 teachers redundant, according to the way in which such things work, and one of the administration staff had to go as well. She said, "But I've already cut the classroom assistants." The head wanted to know how she was going to cover the planning, preparation and assessment periods, which were to be two hours and 28 minutes each.

When that head teacher asked what she should do, I had no answer. The hon. Members for North-West Leicestershire, for Loughborough and for Sheffield,
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Heeley (Ms Munn) will be pleased to know that I did not say "Vote Conservative", because I was not trying to make party political points. She then told me that she spent all her time dealing with the deluge of paperwork from the Department for Education and Skills, which we heard about earlier, and asked me what I could do to help. I did say that a Conservative Government could help in that regard, but as I said, I do not try to make such visits party political.

I will mention Gilmorton school, which I also visited last summer. It has gone very public on this issue. Parents at the school, which is very close to where I live, are up in arms and very voluble. At the time of my visit, the fear was that teachers would be made redundant because the school had to try to balance its books. I think that that happened, although I cannot swear to that as I have yet to revisit it.

Let me describe the reality on the ground—hard-working schools, struggling to keep hard-working teachers and hard-working classroom assistants because they are strapped for cash. Much money has gone into education, but it is not there at the coal face. There was a report yesterday—the Minister may want to say that it is complete nonsense—that the National Audit Office found that 123,000 of the extra people employed in education are actually administrators, civil servants, dinner ladies or whatever. The Minister will have to comment on that report, which I have not myself seen.

Two years ago when I spoke on this issue, I avoided being party political, and the hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire came with me to see the then Education Secretary. We deliberately refused to argue in party political terms. I have to say that now, with a general election looming, when I am campaigning in Leicestershire I shall be banging on about education funding. What will the Minister be able to say to my Labour opponent? What will he be able to say to satisfy the teachers, governors and parents in Leicestershire and in my constituency? What will he say to the head teacher of the small school facing a £48,000 shortfall—one seventh of the budget? Should we, God willing, win the general election, we will ensure that schools get a better deal.

Finally, I want—

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