Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-50)|
MP AND DAVID
21 OCTOBER 2009
Q1 Chairman: May I welcome the
Secretary of State and the Permanent Secretary to our deliberations.
It seems an awful long time since we saw you. That is because
of the summer recess, I am sure. As you know, this is our regular
meeting. The first part will be on public expenditure and the
second part will be on matters relating to the White Paper.
Ed Balls: Can I
say, Mr Chair, it is a pleasure to be here for the fourth sitting
that I have had with the Committee in this parliamentary Session
alone. I think from the fact that you still have people coming
through the door, we have a rather larger turnout from the press
than usual. A thing that surprised me, arriving earlier, was that
we also have a considerably larger police presence outside the
room than on any of my previous appearances. I don't know why
that is, but we have five officers here today with us, so we will
see how it goes.
Q2 Chairman: It's interesting
you should say that. They tried to stop me coming in, which I
thought was amusing. This is about two very substantive pieces
of business, but it would be wrong of us not to very quickly allude
to the discussion we have had in various ways on the post of the
Children's Commissioner. Can I just put it on record that there
has been some discussion that this Committee, and the Chairman
in particular, have undermined the reputation of the person who
was put forward. Can I say that in all the deliberations, in all
the interviews I have done, I have tried to go out of my way to
say that this woman is highly qualified, highly competent, and,
for many jobs, if I had been sitting on the panel, I would have
hired her on the spot. But this Committee did have reservations
about her rightness for this particular role. We at no time tried
to undermine this woman's reputation. Can I put that on the record
today. That is not our intention and never was our intention.
For us, we had reservations about this particular role, and that
came out of the questioning. Perhaps the questions fell badly
for her, but we were sitting here and we discussed it, and, as
you say, nem con, we decided to advise against. But the
one thing that has come out of this, and would you clarify this,
Secretary of State, is that none of us in the briefing we had
from the Clerksyou know how knowledgeable the Clerks areknew
about this Cabinet Office guidance, which you allude to in paragraph
2 on page 2 of your letter: "The guidance also says that
there may also be occasions where a candidate's performance in
front of the Select Committee is considered relevant to the post
in question, but these occasions will be exceptional." When
the Prime Minister introduced this innovation, which we all welcomed,
we thought that that gave Committees a lot more power. I understand
this was the 15th or 16th time a Select Committee had reviewed
a candidate and ours was the first where we decided in the negative.
Could you explain to the Committee, Secretary of State, what kind
of exceptional circumstances could there ever be that a Select
Committee recommendation would be accepted if it differed from
the Secretary of State?
Ed Balls: I welcome what you said
about the Children's Commissioner post and also Maggie Atkinson.
I started my response to you by noting the fact that you had actually
praised her high professional standing, and you did so in your
report, and I mentioned that in the House of Commons as well.
Chairman: I am referring to a letter
that I had from Dick Caborn.
Ed Balls: I have not seen a letter
from Dick Caborn.
Chairman: I'll let you have a copy.
Ed Balls: The difficulty that
we had on Monday was not comments made by members of the Select
Committee, yourself or myself about Maggie Atkinson. But in the
House of Commons in the afternoon, the shadow Education spokesman
referred to her as a "Labour establishment choice" and
"either pliant or conformist". That was where the difficulty
came. The concern that I had over the weekend, when you were releasing
your report at midnight on Monday, was that I knew the danger
was that other people would choose to make those kind of comments
about her standing or political allegiances. That was my concern.
But I never thought that was coming fromanyway, on to the
point that you raised.
Q3 Chairman: Can I just mention
that it always sounds as though it is a bit mysterious. We always
do our release at midnight for the Monday.
Ed Balls: And that's fine. I think
on this particular occasion we had the report on Friday. I had
spoken to you on Wednesday. I was studying it over the weekend
with our response and your office told us that you were publishing
it at midnight on Sunday. The judgment that I had to make was,
given that I had to respond, whether I should do so later in the
day and allow others to make those kinds of extremely unfair and
unwarranted attacks on the Children's Commissioner. That is why
I acted in the way that I did and tried to make sure that we were
as clear as possible.
Q4 Chairman: So we are clear what
the Committee said and what other people said.
Ed Balls: I think that it is really
important to make that distinction. As I understand it, the Committee
quite properly praised her professional standing, but raised some
questions. Having raised those questions, you chose to say that
you could not endorse. That was your judgment. But you had raised
questions that were legitimate and that is a perfectly proper
role for the Committee to play. It was others who then referred
to her as pliant, complicit or a patsyall those kinds of
thingswhich was totally unfair. To be honest, the same
people also say publicly that they would not be keeping the Children's
Commissioner role at all. That tells you part of the agenda that
has been going on here, which is nothing to do with me, the Committee
or Maggie Atkinson. On the particular issue you raised, I was
only aware of the guidance when I was nominating Maggie Atkinson
in the last few weeks and therefore writing to you. The guidance
was published in August by the Cabinet Office. I presume that
this has been discussed between the House officials, Select Committee
Chairs or the people who lead for the Government on such matters.
I have no knowledge of those discussions, but I am sure that they
have taken place. I attached sections 7.1 to 7.3 to the letter
to you on Sunday. It explains how Ministers should respond to
a report. It mentions "relevant considerations", which
would be, for example, "an undisclosed conflict of interest
or other information relevant to the candidate's application,
which was not declared during the selection process" and
"relevant considerations do not include any comments or recommendations
of a partisan nature or which are not directly related to the
person in question." As you said, there is no suggestion
that that has happened in this case. It then says, "In the
vast majority of cases where an open and transparent process has
been followed and the candidate selected on merit, the expectation
is that the Select Committee will agree with the appointment of
the Government's preferred candidate. However, there may be occasions
where the Select Committee recommends against the appointment
of a candidate. In such cases, Ministers should give very careful
consideration to the Committee's reports and the reasons why the
Committee considers the candidate to be unsuitable." On the
issue of the interview, it says, "There may also be occasions
where a candidate's performance in front of the Select Committee
is considered relevant to the post in question, although this
should be exceptional." Presumably, that is an occasion when
the candidate appears before the Select Committee and, despite
the full selection process which has gone on, exposes something
about themselves, their attitude, and their abilities that cast
into question the judgment of the independent Nolan process. I
presume that is the case. The judgment you had to make and the
judgment that I had to make was whether we should overturn that
independent processin this case, on the basis of that evidence.
You clearly felt that there were questions. The judgment that
I had to make was whether there were sufficient questions in order
to reject the unanimous, independent recommendation that I received.
Q5 Chairman: You did it quite
quickly, considering that this woman will not take over until
Ed Balls: But the difficulty that
I hadas I explained to youwas that the job for me
was to consider carefully your report. I read your report on Friday.
I produced over the weekend what I thought was a pretty substantial
and thorough response to the Committee. I went through all the
points you had made and explained my thinking behind that. Your
judgmentwhich, as you said, is your normal practicewas
for this to appear on the news wires at midnight on Sunday night.
The Guardian newspaper was also telephoning on Sunday.
The judgment that I had to make was whether I waited some hours
or days to respond and, in the meantime, allowas we subsequently
saw in the House of Commons that afternoonpeople who are
badly motivated towards the post of Children's Commissioner or
who are trying to play partisan politics with this, to then jump
in and say, "She's pliant. She's a conformist. This is Ed
Balls trying to rig the process for political reasons." My
judgment was that that would be hugely damaging to the post of
Children's Commissioner and, to be honest, massively unfair to
the candidate in question, who had done no wrong and had only
accepted an offer subject to the hearing, following an independent
Nolan process. I did not see why I should leave her in that position
overnight, which is why I published my letter when I did.
Q6 Chairman: We understand that.
It is good background, but the question really for all Chairs
of Select Committees is whether these hearings, for which we had
pretty high hopes, are meaningful in that for the very first timethe
15th or 16th has taken placewe make a negative resolution
motion and are overruled. Can you see any Secretaries of State
using that and listening to Select Committees or is it all a bit
of a charade and a sham?
Ed Balls: First, in your Committee
issues were raised about the powers of the Children's Commissioner.
Those were good issues to raise in the hearings, although to be
honest it was not very fair on the candidate or the selection
process to make that an issue for deciding in this instance, because
it was about the powers in the 2004 Act. However, those are legitimate
issues that came out in the hearings. There were also questions
about the UN convention on the rights of the childMs Brooke
asked some tough questions, and rightly sobut the answers
given, as I read from the transcript, were consistent with the
approach that we have taken as a country to the UNCRC. But there
is a legitimate debate there. It is also the case that if someone
has not got the skills, cannot do the job oras was open
to meis appointed even though they are not the first or
unanimous recommendation of the Nolan process, that can emerge
during the Committee hearing, or subsequently. I think that there
is a really important role for the hearings, but there are some
people who clearly felt that they did not like the policy regime.
Some people felt that they did not want someone with expertise;
they wanted more of a frontperson with more PR experience. To
be honest, there are others in the wider debate who do not really
believe in the role of a Children's Commissioner at all. Probably
it is important that those issues were aired, but I do not think
that we should appoint not the best person to be Children's Commissioner
because of those wider issues.
Chairman: Secretary of State, we have
loads of other business but, Paul, you wanted a quick one.
Q7 Paul Holmes: It's on the same
question as the Chairman's last one. I asked you on Monday afternoon
in Parliament, but obviously that is more knockabout. Here we
are supposed to be more in depth and reasoned. It was the question
that we have just been discussing. What is the point of pre-appointment
hearings if the candidate has already been selected, already been
told that they are selected and already handed in their notice
to their other employer? The guidance says it would be very exceptional
for anything the Select Committee says to have any effect on that
decision. It is an experiment. There have been about 14 of these
so far, which is about 14 hours of Select Committee time. If in
the next 10 years there are 200 or 300, will that be a total waste
of Select Committee time if their deliberations have no effect
Ed Balls: I don't think that these
hearings have no effect, although I think that this is a legitimate
question for us to debate. There is no doubt in my mind about
making the decision to nominate. Under the regime that we have,
we make a nomination and then there is a hearing. In making the
decision to nominate, of course it is in your mind that this person
will have to have a pre-appointment hearing. Perhaps the Permanent
Secretary will say something on this, but I had discretion as
to whether I accepted the first person, or the unanimous recommendation.
I could have, under the rules, gone for someone who would have
been lower down the list, but in my mind I am thinking to myself
that this person needs to go through the scrutiny of the Committee
and I will have to be held to account myself for how we made the
decision. So, there is no doubt that it affects you in advance
in making your decision as a Minister, the fact that there is
going to be a pre-appointment hearing. It is also the case, as
the guidance says, that a new conflict of interest may emergewe
know from the American experience that that sometimes happens.
That is then a real issue that can sometimes be brought out by
this wider scrutiny. And if, exceptionally, they do badly at the
Committee then that is another issue as well. However, what we
do not have is a system with a veto. It is my responsibility under
the 2004 Act to make the appointment. The rules do not say that
there is a veto. In fact, they say that even in the exceptional
circumstances where you would make a recommendation not to endorse,
then you did not rejectyou said, not endorse. I had to
think about it very hard, and I did. To move to a veto system
would move us to a different place. That is a legitimate debate
to have. It is not a debate that I was able to have in this instance,
because I was working with the rules and guidance that we have
Q8 Chairman: But this power for
Select Committees was launched by the Prime Minister as a rejuvenation
of parliamentary democracy. It was seen to be a keystone of renewing
our parliamentary powers. It seems as though those powers are
not really very strong.
Ed Balls: It wasn't, it isn't
and I don't think it was ever described as a veto for the Select
Committee over an appointment. It is a legitimate debate as to
whether there should be a veto, but that isn't the position that
I was in. What I had to do was to justify whether I would overturn
the Nolan recommendation, in the full knowledge, as you saw on
Sunday and Monday, that this candidate was believed to be the
most independent candidate and fiercely supported by the whole
of the wider children's world. I would have been in a very difficult
position if I overturned the Nolan recommendation. It would have
also substantially undermined the Children's Commissioner position,
especially whenas we knew subsequently in Parliament and
as I knew, because I was aware of what was being said last week
and the week beforethe main Opposition party are going
around telling people that they would not continue with the Children's
Commissioner post if they were elected. That is the danger of
the Select Committee being drawn into what others use for partisan
Chairman: We will draw a line there.
Annette wants to put something on the record and then we will
Q9 Annette Brooke: Secretary of
State, I am sure that you will not object to me putting on the
record that the Liberal Democrats are absolutely committed to
a Children's Commissioner and, in fact, have campaigned for many
years to achieve one.
Ed Balls: And actually would like
Annette Brooke: And we would like more
Ed Balls: It was clear in the
2004 debates, when the Conservatives were not persuaded of the
role of the Children's Commissioner.
Chairman: Secretary of State, draw a
line under it. Let us get on with the next business. It is very
important business. We will look at the money, which is quite
important as you know. As a backdrop, there is no doubt that the
figures we have looked at show a very consistent growth in spending:
public spending on education, as a percentage of GDP, running
through from 1997-98 to 2008-09, starting at 4.6% and rapidly
buildingsteadily movingat present to 5.8%. We have
the backdrop. We have where slightly more money has been spent
and slightly less. We know the background reasonably well, but
we want to drill down into some of the detail and Andrew is going
to start that process.
Q10 Mr Pelling: It is quite an
achievement to increase the percentage of GDP spent on education
when there was such strong economic growth. I suspect that with
a shrinking economy, the 5.8% might well go up. What is your expectation
regarding the current share of GDP on spend on education? What
is your expectation of what the percentage of overall public expenditure
will be on education? That must obviously come in the context
of your discussions with the Treasury on future spending. I know
that you have said that 2011 is the year when particular economies
are appropriate. What are you arguing about with the Treasury
in terms of giving equal priority to schools and children's services?
Ed Balls: I think it's important
to put this in the context of this spending round. The Chairman
talked about the change in the percentage of GDP in education.
The average spending rise in real terms for education, up to 2007-08,
is 5% a year. That compares to 1.44% between 1979 and 1997. In
the current spending round, that percentage is lower than 5%;
it is 3% between 2007-08 and 2010-11. However, even with that
lower rise, the percentage share in educationwhich as you
say is a big achievementhas gone up from slightly below
5% in 1997 to 5.8% in the last financial year. It continues to
rise over the next three years to 6.1% as a percentage of GDP,
because of that 3% real terms rise, and because of the fact that
we have been very clear that we will not cut the education budget
this year, next year, or in 2010-11. With this Government there
is a clear commitment to keeping that expenditure share rising
all the way through to 2011up to 6.1%.
Q11 Mr Pelling: How practical
is this £2 billion worth of efficiency savings that you have
Ed Balls: You obviously are jumping
then into what happens after 2010-11, where I have been clear
the percentage of GDP is rising until then. So, it is not just
going up in real terms, it is rising faster than the growth of
the economy and rising to 6.1%. The question is what happens in
the next spending review. The thing I have said very clearly to
the schools world is that we have to start thinking now, as a
Government, but also more widely with our colleagueshead
teachers, governors, school leadersabout how we will prepare
for the spending settlement which we will have to negotiate with
the Treasury at some time over the next year and a half from 2011
onwards. I absolutely want to see education rising. I would like
to see education spending rising in real terms, but in the tough
fiscal regime we are going to be in we are not going to have the
5% real increase that we have seen over the last decade. We are
going to be dealing with tougher budgets. The issue will be how
to continue to support priorities at the front lineteachers,
teaching assistants, one-to-one tuition, school building, extended
schools, all of the things that are very importantwithin
a settlement where education spending will rise, I hope in real
terms, but not as fast as in the past. The only way to do that
is to start a discussion now about the kind of savings we will
need to make within overall budgets after 2011, so we can release
resources and keep them going to the front line. These decisions
will be made in the main by head teachers and governing bodies.
This is not about me imposing from the centre that this is what
you must do. The right thing is to start this discussion now.
I commissioned some independent advice a year ago to help my thinking
before we started these discussions. We started discussions with
all the teachers' leaders before the summer. The areas where we
should definitely look are: procurement; ways in which we can
have schools working together which could release resources; school
balances; business managersdifferent ways in which schools
by collaborating can drive up standards and release resources.
The £2 billion figure is not one I have ever used. What I
have done is point to some individual building blockswhich
I am happy to discuss in detail if you would like, Mr Chairaround
procurement, partnership and school balances. Were you to release
those savings in every school across the system, you would be
releasing substantial sums of money to keep spending on teachers
and teaching assistants when times are tougher. The reason I am
cautious about saying, "Here's my number" is because
at this point we should be asking schools and governing bodies
themselves to think about the kind of savings they can release.
It is not about mandating a reduced head count here. It is not
about saying, "You must make this saving." It is about
saying that if we are going to make sure that in the classroom
we keep our 40,000 more teachers and our 110,000 more teaching
assistants, we are going to have to work together to remodel the
school system so that we can be more efficient.
Q12 Mr Pelling: The investment
in school capital and school buildings has been spectacular. That
is partly a reflection of the strength of the economy, I suppose,
and also some fairly expensive PFI projects. Can that investment
really be expected to carry on? You said in the past that there
was an economic value in terms of stimulating the economy by making
such spend. Has the Department done any work to prove that it
is more stimulative to the economy to build school buildings rather
than other public expenditure? Are some of these schemes proving
to be cheaper in the current difficult economic environment?
Ed Balls: I am grateful for your
endorsement of what we have done on school buildings. We have
had more schools opening this September than, we think, since
the Victorian era. That is a huge achievement. To have had 4,000
schools rebuilt or refurbished already in 10 years is brilliant.
All of us in our constituencies see the transformation that is
having. You also make an important point that school building
is only part of what drives school improvement. The thing that
makes the biggest difference is what happens in the classroom.
The quality of our teachers and head teachers is the most important
thing and our biggest achievement, rather than school buildings.
You are right that having good, modern, environmentally friendly
buildings is important and we have to do that more efficiently.
The Building Schools for the Future programme, compared to the
previous regime of more individual procurement and some of the
early PFIs, is releasing substantial savings in the procurement
process. We are seeing 10 to 15% savings in procurement. One of
the things I said on the wider efficiency point is that at the
moment, given that schools in general are procuring about £7.8
billion of services every year, if you could achieve that 10%
saving in wider procurement that we have already shown we can
do through BSF, that is £780 million. That is getting quite
a long way to the number you were talking about, just within procurement
alone. Of course, we have to try to be more efficient. In the
next spending review there are going to be some tough discussions.
We have a commitment to rebuild or refurbish all secondary schools
and half of primary schools over the next decade and I am keen
to keep making progress. I know there are many local authorities
around the country keen to get into BSF wave seven and eight.
I know there are probably many of your colleagues who are in waves
seven, eight and nine who are hoping that the schools capital
will keep rising and that it is not going to be diverted to fancy
schemes here, there and everywhere or cut.
Q13 Chairman: Isn't the Chancellor
saying that public sector capital spending is going to fall by
£50 billion between 2011-12 and 2013-14? So are you going
to be free from the Chancellor's predictions?
Ed Balls: The Chancellor set out
a deficit reduction plan, and tax plans and spending plans. As
we all know, those plans are continuously looked at in the light
of what happens to the economy, and some tough discussions are
going to be had about where the priorities are for capital spending
for the future. It is not appropriate for me to pre-empt them.
All I can say is that I want us to keep moving forward on our
school building programme because it is vital for the future of
our country. We as a Governmentnot all share this viewthink
that to continue to invest is important for growth and jobs, and
in the past couple of years school building has been a vital support
for the economy through the downturn. I think that it will be
a vital driver of the economy, but also an investment in our children's
education for the future, but we will have to wait and see.
Q14 Mr Pelling: I have some micro-questions
about this year's and next year's budgets. There was a slight
shift towards the under-fives within the budget. As a former chairman
of an education committee, I know that there is always tension
between different parts of services. Is that trend going to continue?
Will any particular priority be given to the different sectors
going forward? Is there going to be any overspend or underspend
in this year's budgetand if there is an underspend, will
it end up being transferred to the Treasury?
Ed Balls: On the first point about
the trends, I was looking at these numbers because I was interested
in your question and wanted to find out the facts for myself.
You are right: over the past decade there has been a small upward
trend in under-fives spending. Under-fives spending was 9.6% of
overall expenditure in 1997-98, and rose to 10.5% in the 2006-07
out-turn, which is the last point for which I can break down those
numbers. That probably reflects Sure Start children's centres
and the free nursery care for three and four-year olds, and the
fact that within the overall rising budget we have really prioritised
a big expansion of under-fives provision. We now have 3,000 children's
centres; we have a high take-up of nursery care for three and
four-year-olds and are extending that to two-year-olds. Will that
trend continue? Probably. While we will keep the focus on the
under-fives in the coming years, the big trend over the next five,
six, seven years will be the rise in participation of 16 and 17-year-olds
as we deliver education for all 18-year-olds by 2013. One examplewe
haven't discussed this before the Committee and I am happy to
do sois that we had an issue in the budget with delivering
our guarantee for every school leaver this September. We found
£650 million of savings across our budget and switched that
money into paying for 55,000 more places for 16 and 17-year-olds
this September. I anticipate that in each of the next few years
we will need to have more school placesprobably more college
places, more importantlymore training places for 16 and
17-year-olds and about 50,000 more apprenticeship starts. If the
trend in the past 10 years was with the under-fives, I would think
that an important trend would be with 16, 17 and 18-year-olds
over the next four or five years. We have made a down payment
on thatwithout cross-party support as yet, despite 11 letters
to my opposite number. But I have not given up hope yet.
David Bell: As the accounting
officer, I have to ensure that we keep within our budget, and
if you look at the trend over the past few years we have got our
underspend right down. Last year it was 1.09%. Just to put that
in context, it often feels to me as if we are trying to land a
jumbo jet on a sixpence, given the size and scale of our budget.
So, we have to keep a really close eye on it during the financial
year. I think that we have got better. Five years ago perhaps,
when our underspend was nearly 5%, whether we were doing our financial
forecasting properly was a legitimate concern. We are trying to
get that more and more accurate. Quite properly, all the incentives
are to stay on the right side of the line, because even a penny
overspent would require a qualification of our accounts, and I
certainly do not want that to happen.
Chairman: Can we move on to Paul, who
is going to drill down on efficiency savings.
Q15 Paul Holmes: Before doing that,
may I ask a precise question that does not really fit anywhere,
although it probably fits best at the end of the first section.
Last week, we took evidence on home education relating to the
Badman report and we were told that before January your Department
was going to clarify its advice to local authorities about claiming
pupil funding to make it clear that that includes money that could
be used for home education. People who home educate could apply
to the local authorities to access this money. Home educators
tell us that almost uniformly across the country local authorities
say that there is no such money, but your Department seemed to
be saying that there is. Is that new money that will be made available
from January or is it money that is already there that local authorities
have not made available?
Ed Balls: Local authorities have
a responsibility to provide support for children with special
educational needs. That responsibility applies to all children.
In some cases, children are home educated because parents have
had difficult experiences with schoolssometimes because
of bullying, sometimes because they could not get the place they
wanted, but sometimes because they did not feel that the special
educational needs of their child were being properly addressed
in that school setting. Point one is that local authorities should
be making sure that they are addressing those concerns for parents
who want to keep their child in school, but in no sense should
a child being home educated take away the responsibility of the
local authority to meet the statement of special educational needs
of a child. So, I think I am right in saying that this is the
local authorities' responsibility. They should be doing it and
I really encourage home educators to take up those offers or to
press for that support because a child with special educational
needs requires special and sometimes professional support.
Q16 Paul Holmes: So the money
is already there but it is the SEN budget that we are talking
about. Some of these children have been bullied at school, have
dyslexia, or have a special educational need of some kind, but
equally there are plenty of children who are home educated not
because of SEN but because they or their parents have chosen not
to use mainstream schools. Can they access any money for exam
fees? It can cost £1,000 to enter for GCSEs, for example.
Ed Balls: The announcement that
the schools Minister Diana Johnson made before appearing before
your Committee last week was precisely that we would be providing
that extra financial support for exam fees, and wider support
if home educators chose to take it up. I fully support the right
of home educators to educate their children at home if they choose.
I know that not everybody supports that right, but I support it
if that is what they choose. But it is really important that children
who are home educated are getting the help they need, and sometimes
the extra support for a special need or to do exams. There is
alsothis is unpopular with some home educatorsa
balance to be struck between the rights of the parent, which I
support, and the rights of the child. Our responsibility is to
make sure that they are safe and making progress. Following the
Badman review, I think we are getting that balance right. Some
educators disagree because they do not think that there is a responsibility
of wider society to make sure that children are learning and safe.
On that point I disagree with them.
Q17 Paul Holmes: Just to clarify
that, home educators should be able to access the SEN budget that
already exists where relevant and new money will be made available
to cover exam fees and that sort of thing, or is it money that
is already there?
Ed Balls: The announcement that
Diana Johnson made to the Committee a week ago was that we would
provide extra support not just for children with special educational
needs but where exam fees were a barrier. I do not have the exact
details of her announcement.
Chairman: We are slightly off piste but
we are getting him back on to public expenditure.
Ed Balls: I am hoping it will
be welcomed by home educators around the country. That is an optimistic
Q18 Paul Holmes: On efficiency
savings, what is the exact figure that the Department is looking
at for efficiency savings in 2009-10? How does that split as a
proportion between education and children's services?
Ed Balls: The efficiency savings
for 2008 to 2011 were all agreed in the last spending review.
On the basis of my figures, for 2009-10 we have a total of £209
million of efficiency savings. That splits between savings on
demography, the 1% a year savings in the overall DSG settlement
and some smaller savings as well. The bulk of it is happening
through 1% efficiency savings in schools, because obviously that
is the bulk of our overall budget, but within that there is also
a 5% expectation for efficiency savings from non-departmental
bodies as well, so there are savings across our agencies too.
Obviously, schools are the bigger part of our budget, so they
make the biggest savings, but I think that it is fair right across
our budget lines.
Q19 Paul Holmes: So it should
be in proportionchildren's social services, educationto
what the balance of spending is anyway?
David Bell: Absolutely. We had
to agree with the Treasury, under the spending review for 2007,
on how that would be broken down. I am more than happy to make
that available to you because it is just, in a sense, a line-by-line
The key issue for us, of course, is to achieve those savings over
the spending review period. You might recall that in previous
appearances we have had some time-lag difficulties. We cannot
necessarily clock the saving because it has to be recorded out
in the school system. That is all broken down over the three-year
period. You are absolutely right; it is broken down across all
of our responsibilities. As the Secretary of State said, largely,
the big numbers have to be around the school side because that
is a very large proportion of our budget.
Ed Balls: For example, there is
a confirmed saving in 2008-09 from the QCA of £4.5 million,
£1.5 million from the NCSL and £600,000 from CAFCASS,
and even £83,000 from 11 Million, so our NDPBs are also delivering
savings consistent with that 5% efficiency target. There was another
thing that I was interested to know and thought that I would let
the Committee know. I looked up our departmental headcount, and
the total full-time equivalent DCSF posts under the old regime
in 2002-03 was 4,300 posts. As of this year, April 2009, it is
down from 4,300 to 2,700, and by April 2011 we expect to have
reduced our full-time headcount to 2,484, so we will be at around
half the staffing level that we were at.
Q20 Paul Holmes: How far is that
offset by consultants and by almost fully funding the Specialist
Schools and Academies Trust, which is supposed to be a charitable
body but is about 90% funded by the Department?
Ed Balls: Look, there are times
when we use consultants in the DCSF but I think that those headcount
numbers have real significance.
David Bell: If you recall, under
the 2004 spending review there was a direct headcount target for
the Department, which we exceeded. Under the SR07, there is not
a direct headcount target, although the numbers have been going
down, but there is, crucially, a 5% year-on-year administration
reduction target, which is part of the spending review agreement.
As the Secretary of State said, the numbers have gone down. That
even takes account of the fact that we lost some of the staff
under the machinery of government transfers, so even when you
take account of that, our numbers have gone down quite dramatically
since the beginning of the century.
Q21 Paul Holmes: But if you give
about £300 millionfrom memory, I think that is what
it isto the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust so that
it can employ whole teams of advisers for schools, is that not
just a way of shifting your figures and pretending that you have
Ed Balls: I do not think that
the numbers that I have given you reflect, in the main, shifts
of the same people being employed under different auspices, but,
yes, we fund the SSAT to do some important work in schools. We
fund the National Strategies to do that as well. I do not think
that we have been doing more of that and I think that in central
administration terms we have been doing less.
David Bell: I can confirm that
those efficiency savings that the Secretary of State referred
to on the NDPBs will include staff reductions, so, in a sense,
everyone is having to take the pain when it comes to staff reductions.
Q22 Paul Holmes: One specific
piece of commentary from the Department was that, in terms of
making efficiency savings in the next year or two, economies of
scale arising from the growth of post-16 learner numbers over
the next two years will mean that learner places can be delivered
with greater efficiency after this year. Sixth-form colleges,
which are in the FE sector for funding, are less well funded than
sixth-form places in schools, but they get better overall A-level
point scores, for example. However, certainly until a few years
ago, the Government had a policy that any school that wanted to
open a sixth form should be encouraged to do so. How do we balance
those conflicting policies?
Ed Balls: It is also our policy
over time to narrow that funding difference, and it is important
that we continue to try to do that. That is always tougher where
there are tougher budgets. We had a decision to make at the time
of the Budget about efficiency savings. As I was saying earlier,
we had to find what we estimated to be about 55,000 more places
for 2009-10 and 2010-11 for school and college apprenticeships.
On top of the spending review, we found what we thought was a
deliverable extra £650 million of savings, which we could
then use to pay for those extra school and college places. Within
that £650 million, there is a 1% extra efficiency expectation
that goes right across schools, sixth forms and FE colleges. In
general, across the piece we are saying that in order to provide
more places, we will have to find ways in which we can do that
with slightly less per pupil funding. To be honest, that is the
only way to deliver on the scale of the guarantee. It is tough,
but necessary. As I said, I am hoping that at some point the Conservative
party will support those proposals. I have written to Michael
Gove 10 times and he still won't reply. I will keep writing.
Q23 Mr Stuart: What?
Ed Balls: It's 11 times.
Mr Stuart: That's what you said five
Ed Balls: I am very happy to make
it 12 times.
Chairman: Graham, I will call you in
a minute. Paul.
Q24 Paul Holmes: On 20 September,
you said that your Department could make £2 billion of savings
to help meet the national deficit. You gave a specific example
of schools federating and having one super-head, for example.
At the moment, if four schools get together and have one super-head,
they keep the money that they are saving. It is within the school
budget. Are you suggesting that in future, if schools federate
and have one head and fewer deputy heads, you will get the money
rather than the school keeping it in its budget? In which case,
what is the incentive for the schools to federate?
Ed Balls: I am not mandating that
a school must have a particular form of school organisation and
give us the money. That is not what I am saying. There are some
areas where there will be decisions that we will have to take
together. For example, there will be decisions to be made about
public sector pay. This year, I am supporting the three-year pay
deal for the pay review bodies, but there will be a question about
pay for the future. In the case of procurement, schools cannot
individually release the scale of savings that we are talking
about. We will have to think about how collectively we can deliver
the procurement savings. On the issue of school balances, we think
that there is about £500 million of excessive school balances,
and there is a real question for local authorities as to what
they do about that. I am afraid that leaving that individually
to schools will not reduce those balances. On the issue of federations,
we are not saying, "You must federate or work together",
and we are not saying, "You must do so for savings reasons."
We are not saying that we will take the money away. However, some
work has been published today by the National College. Federations
work because they raise standards. That is the first and most
important reason for having them. Schools that work together collaborate
in soft or hard federations. That raises the exam results for
all the schools, and that includes a stronger school supporting
a weaker school. That is a reason to do this, and we said that
very clearly in the White Paper. It is also the case that schools
that are doing this find that as well as making leadership go
further forward in driving standards, they can also find economies.
I gave two examples in September. One was a Northumberland partnership
between five schools. They had managed to save what averaged out
to be about £20,000 per year per school from collective procurement
of caretaking, ground maintenance, cleaning and refuse collection.
At the time, I said that were we to replicate those kinds of savings
across a third of our schools from collective working on those
services, that would get about £160 million. If all schools
did it, it would be £500 million a year. I also talked about
a partnership in Cambridge where there were three schools hard-federatingtwo
secondaries and one primary. It is perfectly consistent to say
that they are doing this for school standards reasons. Each school
can have a head teacher, but across the partnership the leadership
team can be shared. You could have subject heads that work across
the schools, or SENCOs or assistant heads that play a role in
more than one school. So, where you have three large leadership
teams, you can bring them together and have some roles that work
across more than one school. I think that that is an area where
we could look to drive great leadership, but also, over time,
make savings and keep our teaching and teaching assistant numbers
at the front line. What I am not saying is that I am going to
mandate that and that I am going to take the money away. What
I am saying is that within tougher budgetsI hope they will
still be rising, but they will be tougherwhat does a school
leader do? They are not going to have to give the money to me,
but they are going to get a smaller increase than they are used
to. So they either lay off the teachers and the teaching assistants,
or they find other ways to reduce some of their other costs so
that they can themselves switch money across, as I have done with
the £650 million from efficiency into 55,000 more school
places. What I want to do is support school leaders to face up
to some of the tough choices that they will have to make. I am
not saying that I am going to mandate.
Q25 Paul Holmes: So you are going
to push schools into federating and reduce the number of heads
and senior staff because you want to cut the budgets and that
would be the only way of covering the deficit?
Ed Balls: That is a rather pejorative
way of putting it.
Paul Holmes: That is what you have just
Ed Balls: I thinkI said
this in Septemberthat every school needs a head.
Q26 Paul Holmes: So not a federation
Ed Balls: No, because it is perfectly
consistent to have a head in each school or to have an executive
head. If you are following that model, you would have two heads,
but, as you know, schools have head teachers, deputy heads and
assistant heads, so they have quite a depth to their leadership
teams. The question is: do you need to duplicate all of that depth
of leadership across each individual school, or are there ways
in which you can have leaders playing a role across more than
one school? It is really important to say that today's National
College reportI didn't know that it was going to produce
it today, but it has
Q27 Chairman: I thought that it
was School Leadership?
Ed Balls: I think that we are
supposed to call it the National College now, because it is the
National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services.
The report states that the primary reason for doing this is because
it raises standards. I have not met anybody in a federation who
is not doing it because it is a better way to deliver a broader,
more effective education for their children. But I have also not
met anybody who has gone through a federation who does not also
say, "By us working together, we can actually do that more
efficiently as well." I think that both those things are
quite consistent, and that it is wrong to say that this is simply
a cuts exercise to damage, reduce or undermine leadership. To
be honest, federating is what great leaders do.
Q28 Paul Holmes: Would you have
said it if there was a big example of saving £2 billion?
Ed Balls: I didn't say £2
billion. What I said was that we have examples of schools themselves
saving money and driving up standards. If schools together across
the system do that, which I think they should, they will be able
to release savings for the front line, as well as drive up standards.
I think we have to face up to the reality and start having some
difficult conversations, but the big choice is going to be whether
you release savings within rising school budgets after 2011, or
whether you start cutting school budgets next year and the following
year. That is the big political choice we will face at the next
Chairman: Okay. It has been a very good
relationship between you two, but I have to break it up only because
we are running behind time.
Q29 Mr Chaytor: The Secretary
of State said earlier that the rise in school funding will continue
until 2010-11 and that it will be 6.1% in 2010-11. Table 8.3 in
chapter 8 of the departmental report shows the figures for total
education spending up until 2010-11, and shows a year-on-year
reduction of 0.3% How do you reconcile your assurance that school
spending will rise by 6.1% in 2010-11 with the overall reduction
of 0.3% indicated in the departmental report?
Ed Balls: By clearing up the misconception
that underpins the position of those who have tried to use this
as an attack. What happened was that we made a decision at the
time of last year's Budget. We knew we had to do more to support
the economy in the downturn, so we brought £800 million for
planned spending for 2010-11 forward and said to local authorities
around the country, "We will give you the permission, ability
and freedom to bring £800 million forward from 2010-11 and
spend it a year earlier." If you say that the average contract
involvedfor example, in primary or secondary capital, for
the kind of money that we are talking aboutmight be £250,000
for a new roof or a new sports hall, £2 million brought forward
would mean about eight contracts of a substantial size for local
small businesses in the downturn, and at a time when there are
fewer private contracts being let. I challenge local authorities
around the country to bring forward money in that way. I am pleased
to say that the large majority of local authorities did so, although
somecertainly fewer than 40refused to bring forward
money. Of that 40, almost all were Conservative, which disappointed
me. But bringing that money forward from 2010-11 to 2009-10 will
of course mean that the 2009-10 budget becomes bigger and the
2010-11 budget gets a little bit smaller. Therefore, it looks
like a fall. But it is the same money being spent over two years;
we are just spending it a year earlier to try to help small businesses
in the downturn.
Q30 Mr Chaytor: Was the departmental
report not published before the year?
Ed Balls: No. June 2009.
Q31 Mr Chaytor: So the figures
in the departmental report absolutely reflect the consequences
of those changes?
Ed Balls: Absolutely.
Q32 Mr Chaytor: Do the figures in
the departmental report only reflect the consequences of those
David Bell: I will just have to
check the timing of that. Obviously, the tables for the reports
are pulled together before the final publication, but I am happy
to clarify that.
But the explanation is what the Secretary of State has given.
Ed Balls: It states here that
"total expenditure figures are projections based on the information
at the time of the Budget 2009." As I understand it, that
reflects a bringing forward of money.
Q33 Mr Chaytor: There are two
separate issues. First, does the table reflect absolutely the
decisions on the re-phasing from 2010-11 to 2009-10? Secondly,
does the figure here only reflect that, or is there some other
changed plan for 2010-11 that is reflected here as well? Clearly,
if schools spending is predicted to go up by 6.1%, what are the
predictions for non-schools spending? The table includes figures
for DIUS, so we cannot speak about that necessarily here. But
my next question, therefore, is: what are the implications for
non-schools spending in 2010-11, after taking account of the 12-month
bringing forward of the figures that you mentioned?
Ed Balls: If you take the year-on-year
real-terms rises, 2007-08 was a 4.7% real-terms rise, 2008-09
was a 3.9% real-terms rise, and 2009-10 is 5.8%an almost
6% year-on-year rise in 2009-10 over 2008-09. Within an overall
settlement, which is 3%, in 2009-10, you have a real-terms rise
year-on-year of 6%. The reason for that big jump in 2009-10 is
that, rather than going for £66 billion in 2008-09, £69
billion in 2009-10 and £72 billion in 2010-11, we brought
forward the total amount of money from 2010-11 into 2009-10. That
is why the profile ends up being 3.9%, 5.8% and then -0.3%it
is simply spending the same money a year earlier. There may be
some other things going on, but to be honest, the extra £650
million of expenditure for school, college and sixth-form places
will probably be reflected in there as well. I would think that
that number should be in there, too.
David Bell: I can answer my own
question about what the tables include. If you look at the top
of page 174, the text states: "Table 8.3 shows that DCSF's
planned expenditure has been affected by the advancement",
which the text goes on to explain.
Q34 Mr Chaytor: What is the consequence,
therefore, for the original targets of efficiency savings for
2009-10? As the Permanent Secretary had said in the two previous
sessions on departmental reports, there were some doubts whether
the Department has met its efficiency savings targets. My understanding
is that the original target for 2008-09 was £1.6 billion,
and by the end of that period, only £200-plus million had
been identified, because of the phasing problems that he mentioned
before. But by the end of 2009-10, a total of £2.9 billion
had to be achieved. Will the Department make that saving of £2.9
billion by the end of 2009-10, or has that been affected by the
bringing forward of spending from 2010-11?
David Bell: Let me just take the
two parts of your question. I think, when I expressed some concern
about the previous spending review efficiencies, it was entirely
to do with the time-lag issue. We had a target of £4.3 billion
in the last spending review and actually met £4.88 billion
of efficiencies, and met all the other targets. As I indicated
to Mr Holmes earlier, we have a very detailed breakdown of the
spending efficiencies we have to make in this period and, yes,
the milestones along the way assume certain savings being made
in each of the years of the spending review. I think that we are
still pretty confident that we'll achieve where we need to be
by the end of this financial year, but I think my point is that
I can't give an absolute sign-off on that, often, until about
six months later, because of the data that come back from the
schools system that we can't get at the end of the year. But I'm
pretty confident, because we've really got this one under close
scrutiny. Whether the impact of the bring-forward will make much
difference: probably not, because actually most of the savings
that we're assuming within the efficiencies programme are revenue
savings, rather than capital additions.
Ed Balls: Just to clarify, so
we don't have to send you the detail, it actually says in the
departmental report that capital investment will rise from £1
billion in 1997-98 to £5.8 billion in 2010-11, while £6.5
billionso, higher than £5.8 billionwill be
spent in 2009-10, following the advancement of a number of programmes
to support the Government's fiscal stimulus to the wider economy.
So that advancement of resource from 2010-11 into 2009-10, I think,
is explained in that profile.
Q35 Mr Chaytor: Presumably, it
still does mean that, in 2010-11, there will have to be some additional
reduction elsewhere to compensate for the fact that the budget
has been brought forward to 2009-10. It's not going to be in schools,
because you've committed to maintaining a 6.1% increase in schools.
Where is it going to come from in 2010-11?
Ed Balls: This is basically the
primary capital programme and other capital spending programmes,
so this is money which they were planning to spend in 2010-11,
and they'll spend less in 2010-11 than they were planning, because
they're going to spend more in 2009-10. What you're getting at
is a deeper issue, which is that this is obviously important for
the base line going forward; but in terms of the actual number
of teachers employed, or buildings built in 2009-10 or 2010-11,
there won't be any change; it's just that there's going to be
a little bit of it done earlier.
Q36 Mr Chaytor: And in terms of
revenue spend for 2010-11?
Ed Balls: Well, the £650
million of efficiency savings that I announced in the Budget,
that is revenue efficiency savings; all of that is going back
into the school and college system to pay for 55,000 more places.
By the end of the day, I'll have written to Michael Gove about
for the 12th time, following Mr Stuart's helpful prompt. But that's
revenue, whereas the bringing forward of 2010-11 to 2009-10 is
mainly capital spendingalmost entirely capital spending.
Q37 Mr Chaytor: Just one final
thing: Secretary of State, you said earlier that, in the first
five years of the next decade, the focus may well have to switch
from under-fives to over-16s, with the policy on increasing the
participation rate up to 18. Isn't a common funding formula from
14 to 19 the obvious way to make the kind of savings that you're
going to need?
Ed Balls: I didn't quite say what
you said, Mr Chaytor. What I said was that, in the past 10 years,
there had been a big rise in the sharewell, a rise anywaybecause
of three and four-year-olds' nursery care, and Sure Start, and
we obviously want to lock in, and go further if we can, on three
and four-year-olds. We are trying to extend free nursery care
to two-year-olds. We'll have 3,500 children's centres from next
year, and we're looking, over time, to get more graduate-trained
people into early years.
So the focus will continue, but in terms of
number of places we have a big challenge to produce a lot of extra
places for school and college apprenticeships by 2013 to 2015.
I wouldn't want it to be seen as a downgrading of under-fives
at all. But I think there's going to be a new focus for raising
the participation rate by about 10 percentage points for over-16s.
And a common funding formula for 14 to 19 is not currently on
our agenda, and we said that in the White Paper clearly around
our discussions for the school funding review for the autumn.
But at the same time, there is clearly a case for it, and it's
something which we'll continue to think hard about as we introduce
the Young People's Learning Agency and increase collaboration
across the schools and colleges sector, to deliver new qualifications;
the case will grow.
Chairman: We are up against it; so quicker
questions and answers.
Q38 Mr Stuart: Secretary of State,
can you clarify the £2 billion reduction? You seemed to deny
that a little earlier. Can you tell us what you did say about
Ed Balls: I think that I answered
the question before you arrived, Mr Stuart.
Q39 Mr Stuart: Okay. Moving on
then, within the context of efficiency savings, children who are
falling behind will have an entitlement to one-to-one support.
I am wondering, given the fact that class sizes have barely reduced
in the past 12 years, how is one-to-one tuition going to be paid
for. Can you tell us how much will be spent and where we will
be able to identify that money within the system?
Ed Balls: In 1996-97, there were
around 30% of children in Key Stage 1five, six and seven-year-oldsbeing
taught in classes over 30. That number has come down from 30%
to about 1.3%. So there's been a huge fall.
Mr Stuart: The average has reduced very
Ed Balls: There has been a big
fall in class sizes for five, six and seven-year-olds, which was
our policy. There has been a fall in class sizes generally. You
have a choice to makehaven't you?in terms of how
you use your resources. Do you say that you'll have one adult
in the class with a smaller class size? Or do you, as we have
done, have a class sizewhich has come down and could have
come down morewith a teacher and often two teaching assistants
in the class, supporting children with special needs or behavioural
issues or just with extra learning, so that the class can keep
learning? The 40,000 extra teachers and 110,000 extra teaching
assistants could have been used, if heads wanted smaller class
Q40 Mr Stuart: Secretary of State,
could you answer the particular question about one-to-one support?
What money is being provided?
Chairman: I assume this is the second
part of this. Could you hold that. We can get to the White Paper
when we get through this first section. Graham, I will call you
as soon as we get on that topic. Annette.
Q41 Annette Brooke: I start by
declaring an interest. I want to ask about the reform of the formula
for school funding, and the two authorities that I represent are
both in the bottom 40, both Conservativeone campaigning
really hard, the other one not even bothering to supply evidence
to you or to pay the subscription to the F40. I want to know,
is the Department committed to a full reform? Are you going to
go with it this time?
Ed Balls: I am also an MP representing
a constituency in the bottom 40. I spoke at the F40 conference
earlier in the year by video link, rather than in person. It was
held in my constituency. I don't know whether it was by chance
that they happened to hold the conference there or whether someone
decided it might be good idea. It would be fair to say that this
is something on which my mind is regularly focused. We will make
sure that the school funding review is good and thorough. The
work is still going on. We set out important principles in the
White Paper which are going to guide our approach to the review
when it comes out, in particular around the way in which we allocate
resources for deprivation to make sure that the money is getting
through and that the proportion of deprivation funding grows within
the overall total. Obviously, the current funding formula and
the fact that it is based on the 2005-06 spendbecause we
have a spend-plus systemmeans that we have traded stability
and predictability on the one hand for some authorities feeling
that it is not as fair to them as it should be. The issue is how
to get the balance between a proper focus on deprivation, which
is really important; a proper focus on the extra costs where you
have rural schools, for example, and, within that context, how
to ensure stability and predictability that is also fair. We are
thinking hard about this, as we prepare for the funding review.
Q42 Annette Brooke: Can I just
ask you directly. Obviously, if there is a change there will be
gainers and losers. I suppose my question again is: are you going
to go ahead with the recommendations? If you introduce floors
and ceilings, the problem will never be addressed properly.
Ed Balls: As I said, you are completely
right in challenging me. I would say that there is a balance to
be struck between stability on the one hand and a proper focus
on need in a fair way on the other. It is easy to draw up a formula;
it is very hard to get consensus, but even if you have consensus,
it could be very jarring and destabilising along the way. We have
to make sure that we get this right. I have not seen recommendations
yet from the review. We are expecting to get those later in the
year. We will obviously need to have a very full and substantial
consultation on any proposals we have for the future. I do not
want to pre-empt its outcome. You are right to challenge me, but
it is quite hard.
Q43 Annette Brooke: Can I just
ask you specifically about this. You mentioned deprivation and
rural areas, and we probably should also put special needs into
the pot as something that definitely needs addressing. Does the
report look into the area cost adjustment, which has peculiar
boundaries from my perspective?
Ed Balls: I understand. I do not
think that we have ruled out anything we have looked at. So I
will wait to see the report.
David Bell: I can confirm that
one of the major areas that we have asked the review to consider,
along with some technical advice, is area cost adjustments.
Chairman: Thank you, Annette. We have
been through this before when Charles Clarke was sitting there.
There is a feeling of deja vu. We will expect blood on the floor
Ed Balls: Maybe that is why the
police are outside. There has been no blood on the floor this
Q44 Helen Southworth: The detailed
breakdown of expenditure by function gives far more detail for
the education part of the Department's responsibilities than it
does for the other aspects of the Department's duties. In particular,
there does not appear to be anything in there that is a congregated
children's services line. It is extremely hard to identify what
growth there is, what savings there are and what actually is happening.
Ed Balls: Chairman, Miss Southworth
is known for her forensic approach to challenging policy. That
is why she often succeeds in her campaigns. She is a new member
of your Committee, and she exposes a real gap in our knowledge
and information. We will make a commitment today that next year's
departmental report will substantially improve the data that we
can provide on this. It is a very fair point. We have policy responsibility
for children's social care, which transferred in the past. The
data in the past were collected by the Department of Health, and
we have some budget data from what is called the section 52 return,
but it is not very good information. We do not think that it is
reliable, and we ought to be able to do better. So we will provide
much better information in next year's departmental report. If
we can provide that data more quickly, we will do so.
Helen Southworth: If we can get an update,
that will be very good indeed.
Ed Balls: As I said, this is my
first point where I am totally on the defensive.
David Bell: This is partly a result
of the funding for children's social services going through the
local government settlement. Of course there are particular responsibilities
that fall on departments in the accounting terms for the departmental
report. One of the things that I will do as a result of this query
is raise the question with the Treasury and my counterparts to
see whether we can ensure that we get a proper report within our
annual report. That is the funding that is going out through our
budget line, as opposed to some of the children's social services
lines. I cannot imagine that my colleagues in the Treasury would
be opposed to this, even if it was replicated information that
appeared in another departmental report. These functions fall
on us as a lead Government Department, but the funding goes out
through a different funding stream.
Ed Balls: The problem is that
we know there has been a 6.1% real-terms annual rise in children's
social care. It is up by about 90%, but we do not really know
where that money is being spent in a more detailed and finer breakdown.
We should, so we will.
Q45 Chairman: But is it not our
job to scrutinise taxpayers' spend, and this is a really big issue?
Ed Balls: You have asked me a
tough question, and I have told you that I cannot answer that
Chairman: I don't think we can wait for
a year. You are going to have to come back earlier.
Ed Balls: The commitment I made
was that we would definitely do it by next year's departmental
report, but the sooner we can do it, the better. That depends
upon how we can get the information collected. But, look, I have
the same reaction as you. I want to know and I want to know the
detail. It is not really good enough, and we will improve it quickly.
Helen Southworth: I was going to go on
and ask a series of questions about how that was going to be improved
and what was going to be done, but we are going to come back and
have another look at that.
Mr Stuart: Perhaps she should write to
Mr Gove as well.
Q46 Helen Southworth: There is
something specific that I wanted to ask the Minister about, because
during the summer, I have been receiving a lot of representations
from young people in care. I have undertaken to bring two specific
issues to you, to ask you on behalf of young people who are approaching
leaving care, or who are just leaving care, who want to have the
opportunity to stay with a foster parent or to have good support
and who are not currently able to. They are not happy. They want
to ask, like any young person in that situation would, their parent
for support, and we are their corporate parent, so I really want
to ask the Secretary of State whether he can take up that issue
personally and make sure something happens quickly for those young
Ed Balls: In my own constituency,
the leaving care advisory service for 16 to 24-year-olds is run
by Barnardo's. I have met them a number of times. I know the challenges
that are faced, and these young people deserve better and longer
support from us. I think that we have substantially improved the
way in which we are supporting young people going to university
now, but there is more that we can do. Hopefully, the legislation,
which has just been taken through the House in the past year or
so by the previous Children's Minister, Beverley Hughes, improves
the legislative framework and the expectations on local authorities.
But the key thing is to make sure that translates into change
for young people on the ground. Maybe the right thing to do, Chairman,
would be for me to have a meeting with Miss Southworth as part
of her Committee work, and then she can report back to you once
we have had those discussions.
Helen Southworth: I have one additional
Chairman: Very briefly.
Q47 Helen Southworth: Minimum
standards of accommodation are something that this Committee has
taken up and taken to the Minister. The young people during the
summer were saying they need them now. Can they have them now?
Ed Balls: As I said, the responsibility
for the delivery of those services is for local authorities, but
we have to make sure that they are resourced and challenged and
expected to deliver those standards of care, and that is about
the quality of the buildings and also the training of staff. We
place huge responsibilities and expectations on care workers working
with looked-after children going through probably the most turbulent
time of their lives. I am not sure that we always do that with
the high enough expectations of what we should be doing in terms
of training and support for those care workers, and that is one
part of the wider question of children's social work, which a
social work taskforce is looking at. I am very happy to make sure
that that particular issue is being addressed as part of the social
work taskforce. But, as I said, we place very high expectations
on some of the care workers and so do the kids in their care.
Q48 Lynda Waltho: Secretary of
State, I want to look at the objectives in the public service
agreements and targets. Despite efforts to reduce the number of
performance-driven objectives and the PSAs, a number remain in
place and, indeed, it would appear that several new ones have
appeared. How does your Department work, in conjunction with the
other departmentsfor instance, the Department of Healthto
ensure consistent delivery? And if that delivery does not occur
or is not consistent, who takes the rap for that?
Ed Balls: I think that it was
very brave of the Government back in 1998 to commit to publishing
and being made accountable for public service and output targetsthe
original PSAs. There is no doubt that to begin with we had too
many. Sometimes, we hadn't understood how to deliver this. It
had never been done before. There had never been in the British
Government in the previous years any focus on outputs for public
services at all. I think that we now have a really good set of
sometimes individual but often shared objectives. I would not
want to see a reduction in the number of PSA targets for our Department.
I think that would be the wrong thing to do. And you're right
that, in order to deliver many of them, they have to be for more
than one Department. Teenage pregnancies are a very good example.
What's happening in schools and what's happening in the health
service are both absolutely vital, and obviously leadership of
the local government is as well. You can explain that for many
of the other ones as well. In many cases, we now have direct joint
policy responsibility. For example, in the case of children's
health, I have joint responsibility with Andy Burnham. In the
case of youth justice, the Youth Justice Board and youth custody
are jointly sponsored by myself and Jack Straw. So I feel as though
I have responsibility and accountability for some PSAs, which,
traditionally, you would have seen as health. When it comes to
healthy eating in schools, obviously, that depends very much on
the wider active work being led by the Health Department. A Cabinet
Committee meets every quarterI think that I am right in
saying thatand we look at all these PSAs. Ministers turn
up. Where we are worried, we then get officials together to report
back to us on whether or not there is sufficient joint work and
joint challenge. As we've discussed before, there is a question
for Parliament as to how it chooses to scrutinise where there
is joint responsibility. I think that you've led the way, Chairman,
in the way in which you scrutinise the child poverty objective,
which is a joint PSA, but there are other PSAs which are equally
deserving of scrutiny and where there is one more than one departmental
responsibility for delivering them.
Q49 Lynda Waltho: Do you know
of any PSAs that have been dropped from the Department in 2009-10?
Ed Balls: No.
David Bell: No, the original structure
of PSAs that was agreed at SR07 allocated PSAs 10 to 14 to us,
and that still remains the case. To deal with the additional point
to the Secretary of State, each PSA has a management board involving
the relevant Departments. I chair an oversight board, which essentially
reports into the ministerial committee that the Secretary of State
Q50 Chairman: Culture, Media and
Sport is an unusual one, but you do have some joint responsibilities
thereI am thinking of obesity. Do you think Ben Bradshaw's
idea of freeing up product placement on commercial television
would be good for child obesity and child health?
Ed Balls: We have, with DCMS,
joint responsibility for children's play, but we certainly make
sure that our voice is heard on any issue which is about children
and young people. On the particular issue of product placement,
I think that we need to proceed with great care.
Chairman: Thanks for that. We are moving
on to the second session. David Bell is leaving us. Thank you,
David. It was nice to see you again. Vernon Coaker and Jon Coles
are joining us.
Ed Balls: The Permanent Secretary
has just said to me that this is the fist time that we have had
a meeting without his wearing a jacket. He has managed to survive.
Chairman: He is breaking new ground.
He will turn up not wearing a tie next.
1 See Ev 17. Back
See Q33. Back
See Ev 17. Back
See Ev 17. Back