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14 July 2009 : Column 261

Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The sedentary intervention for which you reprimanded me was based on my experience in a Standing Committee when the Government were defeated on a programme motion. They came back after some discussions with a motion that was extremely similar to the original one. I confess that as the Whip on that Committee, I was not fast enough on my feet to object to the motion. I took private advice later and was told that the motion was so similar to the one that the Committee had rejected that, had I objected, there would have been grounds for the Chair to consider that the motion was in violation of Standing Orders.

Can you give guidance to the House? The House rejected a very similar motion on the Regional Grand Committee on 25 June. The Government have moved the timing by one hour, which does not appear to be consistent with the spirit of the position that the House took on that motion. Is it really satisfactory to have this narrow difference? When a motion is defeated, how similar a motion can one come back with?

Mr. Speaker: I have listened to that point of order, which the hon. Gentleman developed at a leisurely pace, and I have to say to him that the insertion of the word "really" in the middle of his question does not make the question any more valid or legitimate than it would otherwise be. For the hon. Gentleman simply to say, "Is it really satisfactory?", I am afraid will not do.

I know that the hon. Gentleman would not for one moment seek to entice or inveigle me into a continuing argument about a matter upon which I have already ruled. I know that he would not do that because, as my long experience demonstrates to me, he always wants to behave in an orderly manner. So I want to say once and for all to the hon. Gentleman, who I know will get it and accept it straight away, that the point has been raised by the hon. Member for Wellingborough and indirectly by others, and I have already ruled on it.

If, at another point in time, the hon. Gentleman wants to have discussions with a variety of people over a cup of tea or in some other way on these matters, that is open to him. But as far as tonight, the Standing Orders and this motion are concerned, I have ruled on the position, and that, frankly, is the end of the matter.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I was just reflecting on the point made by the hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), and I perfectly well understand your ruling that the motions are in order, but it occurs to me that somebody needs to tell the hon. Gentleman where to go and there are but four sitting days before the long recess for that process to take place. Perhaps you could discover what the mechanism is for hon. Members who will wish to attend, no doubt, the Grand Committee relevant to their region to find out where they are to find the Committees in these large cities when we are about to go into recess and they will not be in their normal offices.

Mr. Speaker: That can be regarded as quite a helpful point of order. The hon. Gentleman's concern for the proper sense of direction, in a geographical sense, of the hon. Member for Thurrock is greatly appreciated.

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I am advised by those who know that the precise location is the council chamber. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not going to spoil a good point by asking me without notice to demonstrate that I know precisely where in the building in Bedford the council chamber is, because I would not be able to satisfy him. It is safe to say that the hon. Member needs to know in the next few days. I think that I have given the basic answer, and if there is any further scope for clarification, I am sure that between now and the summer recess it will indeed be provided.

It was an interesting series of points of order, but we should now move to motion 12.

East Midlands Regional Grand Committee

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 117A(3)),

The Speaker's opinion as to the decision of the Question being challenged, the Division was deferred until Wednesday 15 July (Standing Order No. 41A).

Welsh Grand Committee


Select Committee on the Reform of the House of Commons

Motion made,

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Hon. Members: Object.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would I be right in saying, even if it is rather an irony, that in an effort to set up a Committee that may well strengthen the House's power over its own business, we are entirely reliant on the Government to grant time to debate the motion setting up that Committee? Am I right in saying that only the Leader of the House, in a business statement, can allocate time for discussion of the motion?

Mr. Speaker: That is a sophisticated point of order, but I think that I can safely say to the hon. Gentleman that irony is not a matter for the Chair.


Wind Farm Development (Wales)

10.17 pm

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Mr. Speaker, the miraculous conversion of dry points of order into remarkable and entertaining levity worthy of "Today in Parliament" is a tribute to your Speakership. I am almost ashamed to bring the much more serious matter of this petition to the attention of the House, but I must.

The petition is about a matter of great concern to residents of Welshpool and, indeed, my whole constituency of Montgomeryshire. They are mightily exercised about the potential impact on road transport of the construction of a very large number of wind turbines in the county of Powys. Leaving aside arguments about the questionable effectiveness of turbines as energy-producing sources, my constituents specifically wanted me to raise their worries about the logistics of transporting a very large amount of material by road, the effects on local congestion and general traffic flow, and the damage to existing infrastructure. The petitioners include the town clerk, Robert Robinson, Councillor John Meredith, Councillor Estelle Bleivas, and the outstanding mayor of Welshpool, Councillor Ann Holloway. The petition reads:


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Bournemouth and Poole FE College

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. -(Mrs. Hodgson.)

10.18 pm

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole) (Con): It is my pleasure to have secured this debate on the future of Bournemouth and Poole further education college. First, may I welcome the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs to his new responsibilities? I have a feeling that he will attend many such debates about the future of further education colleges throughout the county. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) for being present at this late hour, and my neighbour, the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who has also come to support me in this debate.

Together, Bournemouth and Poole have a great educational sector. We have a very good university, Bournemouth university, which happens to be in Poole. It educates thousands of people. We have a good education system in our area, with many international schools. Bournemouth and Poole college is very well regarded, and thousands of people have passed through it. It is vital to our area that we should have that place of learning. The college has been particularly blessed, because it has had a series of principals who are extremely talented and have always advanced the interests of the college, namely Richard Dimbleby, Rowland Foote and, more recently, Lawrence Vincent, who was the deputy principal but has now taken over. They have all wanted the best for Bournemouth and Poole college.

When the Learning and Skills Council first set out the Building Colleges for the Future programme, Bournemouth and Poole college thought that it was a great opportunity. It assembled plans in March 2008 for a £130 million redevelopment. The college has a disadvantage in that it has a number of centres, principally in Poole and in Bournemouth. The programme seemed a great opportunity to refurbish and reinvigorate its buildings in order to provide first-rate education for the future.

The scheme that the college drew up was for a £130 million redevelopment, at both Poole and Bournemouth. Many of the buildings, especially those in Bournemouth, have asbestos, are not fit for purpose and need refurbishment. Planning went in in October and November 2008 on the basis of the 80 per cent. grant, and the college proceeded, having consistently engaged in a dialogue with the LSC about the way it was going, and was very disappointed in December 2008 when it was told that there was a freeze. Initially, the college did not worry too much about that because it thought its plans had been well drawn up and it had been in dialogue with the Learning and Skills Council.

The college was doubly disappointed that in March 2009 the freeze became more permanent and it became clear that the LSC had misjudged, to put it kindly, the level of bids across the country. Many colleges, some of which had already started building, could not proceed with their projects. We know that in April 2009 the Minister's predecessor, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Simon), set up a review under Sir Andrew Foster to look into the problem. Subsequently the LSC decided that of the 144 colleges that put in bids, many
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in the expectation that they would be successful, only 13 so far would be given approval. Many colleges have incurred considerable expense on architects and fees, and some have already started works.

As I understand the situation, the next review will be in 2011 and there is no guarantee that at that point Bournemouth and Poole or any of the other colleges will be able to go ahead. I hope that when the Minister replies, he will give some indication when we are likely to see a start, if not of the whole £130 million redevelopment, of at least part of the development that has been planned. Of the 13 schemes that are proceeding, not one is in the south-west of England. One has to drive about 100 miles from Bournemouth or Poole to London to find a scheme that has been given the go-ahead.

That clearly leaves the college with a problem. Bournemouth and Poole college is vital for training many thousands of people across a range of ages for the world of work. We have gone through a very difficult economic period, and the college is vital to my constituents, and to many of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole, who I understand in a past life worked in Bournemouth and Poole college as a lecturer. The bill facing the college will have a very real effect unless the LSC addresses it and starts to compensate the college for some of its expenses.

The college started off with a surplus of £5 million in the bank. It has always been cautious and always wanted to expand, so it started by accumulating funds. It has spent £11 million on the project so far, on the basis that it would get funding. If the project is written off, that will lead to an operating deficit in 2008-09 of £7.5 million. In these difficult times, that is a considerable sum, which will have to be written off.

Annette Brooke (Mid-Dorset and North Poole) (LD): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. Does he agree that we have a short-term and a slightly longer-term problem? The short-term problem could almost be described as a crisis. The college is running a huge deficit and people are gravely concerned about the future. We seek reassurance from the Minister that stop-gap funding can be found to make good what has been undertaken on firm promises from the Learning and Skills Council.

Mr. Syms: The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Although approval has been given to 13 of the 144 colleges that bid, many that have not been given approval have incurred major expenditure, and there is a serious problem with trying to tide them over, so that in one, two or three years, work on some of them can go ahead. In the short term, however, the situation has given them major problems, and many of them, as I think the Minister will acknowledge in his speech, are vital for the economic recovery of our country-for retraining young people, old people and workers. There is a problem, therefore, and I am sure that the Minister will not run away from it. I am perfectly sure that, when he opened his red box, the first thing that he took out read "Learning and Skills Council, Building Colleges for the Future". We need a resolution to the problem quickly.

The college principal tells me that it is living off a £600,000 overdraft and will need to raise a further £900,000 to keep running until the end of September.
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College representatives have had a dialogue and meetings with the LSC. They had a meeting about a week ago, in which they gave further details to the LSC, and although it took them away, it has not said an awful lot yet. We are not very hopeful about getting all our £11 million back, but we need a substantial amount of it back if there are not to be consequences for the college-in terms of either laying off lecturers, who are vital, or restricting the courses that are available to my constituents, the hon. Lady's constituents and, indeed, the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch. They also expect the college to provide facilities for their constituents.

I want to hear from the Minister about the strategy. Thirteen of the 144 projects have been given the go-ahead, and I am sure he realises that many of the other colleges, which have been left hanging in the wind, need some funding to cover the expenditure that they have already undertaken. Indeed, if the projects go ahead in a year or two or three, some of that expenditure will not have been wasted. The plans and work that have been undertaken will still be important for proceeding with the projects. However, we need some answers and there is a degree of urgency.

The college principal has made the point to me that September is the beginning of the new college year, that it will have a new intake and that unless the LSC quickly indicates the funding sources that will be provided, tough decisions will have to be taken.

Mr. Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on introducing the debate, because it is about an issue that is causing enormous concern in our area. Does he agree that one of the questions is whether the Government will provide an indemnity against the costs incurred by Bournemouth and Poole college as a result of the gross negligence and incompetence of the Learning and Skills Council? That is effectively the cause of the funding crisis, and the LSC is going to be abolished, so the least the Government can do is to indemnify the college against the reasonable costs that it has incurred as a result of the LSC's incompetence.

Mr. Syms: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, and the fact that the chief executive resigned, was pushed out or whatever, is a sign that misjudged the whole process. Further education colleges have been massively under-invested in over the past 20 to 30 years; I do not think that any of us would underestimate that. The Government's intention to rebuild many colleges is worthy, but the £2 billion bill was unexpected. Indeed, few Members do no have a college, either in their constituency or nearby, that has faced a similar problem. There has been a monumental misjudgment, but I do not want to focus too much on that, because we need to know when we will be able to start to improve the buildings in Bournemouth and Poole-not with the £130 million perhaps, but something. We need an indication-even a wink across the Chamber will do.

We know that the amount of money expended will cause a short-term problem to the college, and that will have an impact on turning out many thousands of people for the world of work in our area. We need a strategy for dealing with that, and we need answers.

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