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Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Robathan: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to make his swan song in a speech in a few minutes' time, but I will give way to him now.

Mr. Reed: If the hon. Gentleman saw me moving, he would never describe me as giving a swan song, and I have never been described as a swan.

On the specific point that he made, I am disappointed that he wants to make this into an issue in the general election in the stark terms in which he raised it. Unfortunately for him, if he did, it would only expose Tory education policies. First, the Tories want to cut £1 billion from local education authorities across the country, and we have no idea where that would come from. Furthermore, the pupil passport would probably take out another £1 billion from the state education system. If he looked at his own party's policy document, he would see that it refers to almost exactly the same
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funding formula. I was hoping that we could work on a cross-party basis on that, but will he explain to the voters of Blaby that his party's policies would be even worse for Leicestershire?

Mr. Robathan: I am sorry that I gave way, though I will miss the hon. Gentleman after the general election, because he is entirely wrong. I just explained how many of the extra people in the sector were in education administration. If he does not understand that, he should go and talk to his own child's primary school head teacher and ask how much paper is pumped out—day in, day out—from the office down the road and lands on the head teacher's desk. That does not come free; it comes very expensive.

I look forward to hearing what my colleagues from Leicestershire—my friends from the other side—have to say. I hope that they will explain what the Government have against the children and parents of my county.

8.43 pm

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), who knows that I held a similar debate in Westminster Hall on 5 November, when he and the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) were present. On that occasion, many of the same issues were raised with the Minister's predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Miliband), who is now the Minister for the Cabinet Office.

It is a shame that the end of the speech given by the hon. Member for Blaby degenerated into a party political rant, but I suppose that that is unavoidable, given the likely election timetable. I, too, have started to get very interested, and for the same reason, in what policies the Tories are proposing on education. I urge him to reflect more on the consequences of some of those policies, particularly the pupil passport, which would be a disaster for the Leicestershire education system.

Mr. Robathan: I could explain Tory party policies on education in great detail and point out that they would lead to a considerable amount of money saved from bureaucracy being invested back in the front line, in schools. However, I know that if I did so you would call me to order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Reed: In that particular case, I am sure that you would not call the hon. Gentleman to order, Madam Deputy Speaker—not if we are talking about the funding of education in Leicestershire. I am sure that the people of Leicestershire would be delighted to know the detail, and again I observe that the hon. Gentleman has not dealt with my specific point about the pupil passport or the voucher system that his party proposes. Perhaps he is not 100 per cent. aware of the consequences: the pupil passport would take more than £1 billion out of the education system across the country, affecting an estimated 33,000 students. He should reflect on the circumstances in Leicestershire schools. Under the Conservative proposals, if 10 pupils left each school, £5,000 would be taken out with each one of them, so he should just think of the impact that that would have. I urge the hon. Gentleman to exercise
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some caution in making this debate a party political one in the run-up to the general election, because I am afraid that his party will be exposed quite badly on that point.

David Taylor: Does my hon. Friend agree that that £1 billion, translated to Leicestershire, which has approximately 1 per cent. of the population of the United Kingdom, amounts to taking about £10 million from what the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) has described as a cash-strapped county? That is not much of a way ahead.

Mr. Reed: I entirely agree. My hon. Friend's maths are always much better than my own. As he is an accountant who worked for Leicestershire county council, I always rely on his figures.

Mr. Robathan: The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that we have actually pledged to spend more on education overall, rather than less—

David Taylor: How?

Mr. Robathan: If the hon. Gentleman had been here earlier, he would have heard how. However, we are discussing the here and now rather than the hereafter—life after the Government, thank goodness for it! Would the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Reed) concentrate on that and explain why parents, teachers and governors are writing to us all to complain about what is happening in Leicestershire now, not at some stage in the future?

Mr. Reed: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for trying to switch the emphasis away from what he has proposed. It is a shame that he ended his speech as he did, because we have worked closely together over the years in a cross-party group of MPs. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and I were in the original E8 group before it became F40. There were only eight of us to start with, and right from 1997, when we entered Parliament, we saw the disastrous effects that the funding formula had on Leicestershire. It was clear from the start that we would have to work on it, and I was grateful to work with my hon. Friend.

David Taylor: I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan). He was not blowing his own trumpet when he said that he was part of a very non-partisan delegation to the present Home Secretary when he was Secretary of State for Education. We all contributed, and the hon. Gentleman was not partisan then, even if he is being partisan now. But what is going to happen in seven weeks' time must, I suppose, affect his attitude to these things.

Mr. Reed: My hon. Friend is right. After whenever it is—5 May or June next year, or whenever it is—I hope that we can all work together. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Blaby is not too confident of his own chances of being here, as he showed when he said that he might not be able to work together with us in future.
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Let me come to the starting point of what I wanted to say. There are three strands to the argument before us: where we have come from, where we are now, and what we do about the future.

Those of us who worked at county hall in the early 1990s know where we have come from. The previous Government were in power, and we remember the cuts that we saw year on year. From 1992 to 1997, the average cut in real terms per pupil was £60. Each year inflation ran at 3 to 5 per cent., but the average increase in education funding for Leicestershire was under 1 per cent.: it was 0.9 per cent. in 1994–95, and in 1995–96 it was 0.8 per cent. Strangely enough, it jumped to 5.5 per cent. in election year, in 1996–97, although I do not know whether that jump was related to anything. Overall, we saw decreases in the amount of money going to Leicestershire education authority. Those of us who were governors during those times know exactly what that meant. It meant real and deep cuts in front-line education services for teachers and pupils.

Let us not pretend, then, that all was rosy on 1 May 1997 and that it has all been a disaster since. In fact, overall spending per pupil in Leicestershire has increased by £800 in real terms—that is, above inflation—since 1997. That is a 27 per cent. increase in place of the previous real-terms cuts. Teacher numbers have risen by 450. The funding formula has been discussed once and is about to be discussed again. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire was exactly right to point out that the increase in capital funding has been really impressive. It has jumped from about £2 million on average—I remember it being about £1.8 million in 1994–95—and is now more than £30 million, and has been in the upper £20 millions for the past three or four years.

We have also seen great benefit from the Sure Start programme. Unfortunately, the business of the House on Friday prevented me from going to the opening of the new Sure Start in Shelthorpe. On nursery provision for three and four-year-olds, I declare an interest because my three-year-old daughter has just started nursery and is benefiting from it, and my son went through it. It is a fantastic provision.

As I said earlier, I made my maiden speech in this House in 1997 during the debate on reducing class sizes. It is great that in Leicestershire, where more than 7,000 five, six and seven-year-olds were in classes of more than 31, class sizes have reduced drastically.

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