|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): To give colleagues some time, I will be brief. Rather than dealing with the macro-economy, I will address three specific points relating to my constituency. I welcome the remarks of the hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire)although I did not agree with his approach, I also tend to focus on the skills gap and specific issues around education. I also want to deal with the Budget proposals on sport, about which no one has yet spoken, and which are important for my constituency.
My constituency has a large skills gap at every level: at university level, in higher skills and in intermediate and basic skills. I am pleased that University College Northampton now has full university status, and I hope that that will both plug the skills gap at the higher level and serve to drive up standards across the whole school sector. I also welcome the Government's extra funding for our schoolsa total investment of £115 million in a major schools reorganisation, with the aim of improving on a history of under-achievement in schools in Northampton.
In that context, I welcome the announcements about extra spending in schools, which will build on the Government's good track record. I would, however, like more clarification. Our schools are all tied into a major private finance initiative scheme. I hope that there will be flexibility in the structuring of the extra finance so that we can improve some of the specifications of the PFI contract, or make it possible for head teachers to work collaboratively to commission some of the improved services that they want across the board.
I also welcome the changes proposed for further education, especially the recognition of the important role played by the sector in driving up skills standards and dealing with some of the areas of disadvantage with which other education sectors have not been able to deal. I welcome "train to gain", because I think it important to ensure that when people are in work they do not simply stay at the level they have reached. It is well recognised that the Government have an obligation to improve their skills so that they can progress in their careers, and can retrain to meet changes in their sector of employment.
I welcome the tighter focus on skills, but if FE colleges are to have more targeted ends, they will need more flexible means of getting there. I fear that some of the proposals in the White Paper will increase bureaucracy. That must be trimmed. If the FE sector is to achieve its target of improving skills in this important area, it must
27 Mar 2006 : Column 641
be freed to do so. In particular, it must be given the support it needs to tackle disadvantage and reach some of the marginalised groups. Northampton college has been especially successful in that regard.
I particularly welcome the extra money for sport. Sport is often seen as an add-on, but, as we have seen, it is important in improving educational achievement for some of the most disadvantaged young people by giving them a different route into school, and giving them a sense of achievement and purpose. It can also be important in regenerating the economy in certain areas. We have observed the progress made by the street football schemes, and by some of the retraining schemes to help young people in the east end of London to become referees and coaches.
In Northampton, in preparation for the Olympics, we set up a partnershipit is cross-party, and the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) has been very supportivebetween the public and private sectors. It includes the district and county councils, the chamber of commerce, the schools and the university, and it is being supported very generously by Barclaycard. Its aim is to develop sports and related services in our area to take advantage of the Olympics, while considering the potential for economic regeneration, educational issues, the culture, the legacy, the cultural festivals and the opportunities for universities. I was encouraged to hear the Chancellor's proposals for schools festivals and the expansion of sporting facilities.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will respond to those points and will listen to some of the representations from Northampton. I want to ensure that we can take some of the opportunities offered in the Budget. I want the sporting provisions to help boost our economy and give fresh chances to young people, many of whom missed out the first time, so that they can find a way back into education.
Michael Connarty (Linlithgow and East Falkirk) (Lab): Despite criticism of this Budget from all sides, it confirms the stability of the British economy, which has taken us through some very stormy times. I point out to those who look back to previous Administrations that such stormy times would have brought their weakly based economies crashing down. I am thinking of the far east crash, the stagnation that the EU has faced for almost a decadeit could have moved forward if only it had taken the Lisbon agenda as seriously as we doand the energy price hike that we are all suffering, but which we will see through.
In this and previous Budgets there has been a constant focus on the supply side, which shows that the Government are on the right road. Many of today's contributors have shown that much of the scaremongering is not based on truth. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (James Brokenshire) must stop blaming the Government and take note of the fact that the UK
27 Mar 2006 : Column 642
private sector has not got the guts to make the investment that private sectors in other economies, which are going ahead of us, are making.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North (Ann McKechin) explained the world demographic situation, and in my view we have reached a tipping point. Within the next four to five years, through the growth of the city of Quonqing alone, more people will be living in an urban setting than a rural one. Many of them will not have jobs because the lack of concessions from rich countries in the EU and north America has stripped away their agricultural base.
On science, last Friday I visited a company in my constituency that emerged from the fall-out from ICI. AstraZeneca Novartis has developed Amistar, which is the world's biggest selling fungicide. Amistar and subsidiary products are being developed in Grangemouth, in my constituency, and being sold to 100 countries, thereby earning $1 billion a year.
Some have argued that health is not on the Budget agenda, but as has been pointed out, a lot of money is being invested in health. The figures show that when the Conservatives left office, such investment accounted for 5.4 per cent. of gross domestic product; it now accounts for 7 per cent. In real terms, investment has increased from £51.9 billion to £81billionso health is getting the investment that it needs, and if there are problems with overspend, they must be examined at a local level.
Education is the main issue on which I want to focus, and the problem with education expenditure is that it is not evidence based. The Education Committee said in its 200405 report that it had some concerns about the basis of the Government's investment in academies and special schools. I raise this issue today because I do not believe that the investment is being made in schools in England that is required to turn education round; rather, money is being invested in structural change, and massive sums are being invested in academies and specialist schools, which have yet to show that they can achieve what they are supposed to achieve.
Earlier, a Conservative Member quoted the Prime Minister, who said that the worst thing that could happen to a child aged 11 was to be labelled a failure. However, we have failed to deal with that major problem. There are now more pupils in grammar schools in England than when we came to power in 1997, yet we continue to invest in structural change. Instead, this Government should be making proper quality assurance assessments. Such a body is to be set up, and someone described it as a quango, but quality assurance is about what happens in schools, the process that children experience as they go through school, and what happens when they leave.
I am very pleased that the Government have at last decided to introduce synthetic phonics, which were piloted in the central region of Scotland when I was a teacher. They were then used in west Dumbarton, where the percentage of children who do not achieve the required level of literacy at age 11 has been reduced to 6 per cent. as a result. The target is a 100 per cent. literacy rate. I hope that England will experience a similar benefit through the use of synthetic phonics.
Despite "Every Child Matters", the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 and the various measures being adopted in schools, the Government remain
27 Mar 2006 : Column 643
obsessed with structure. Some of the Select Committee's criticisms have never been answered. Sums of £50,000 from the private sector are matched by £100,000 from the Government, with £126 per pupil for the next four years. That is a massive investment, yet there is no evidence to show that pupils achieve in the speciality of the school. The general standard is raised, but when such massive investments are made in certain schools that is bound to happen. Academies are not achieving what was hoped for them, yet they can cost from £25 billion to £35 billion, completely distorting local authorities' investment priorities.
I want the Treasury to look seriously at evidence-based assessments of what we are getting for our money, and to examine what happens in schools and the outcomes for every pupil, not just for the few who have the privilege of private education or massively distorted capital investment.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|