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Lord Filkin: My Lords, I can support the objective behind the amendment but I hope to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, that it is not literally needed.
As the noble Lord will recollect from Second Reading, behind this Bill lies the new relationship with schools. A central part of this new relationship is a recognition that schools need the freedom and space to get on with their core job. Part of that is a minimisation of the amount of burdens imposed either by central government or the local authority in any way that is needless.
Measures to be taken which will be a part of this minimisation include: shorter and sharper inspections; three-year budgets; school profile largely populated by data provided electronically and centrally; the changes to school data from three surveys to one survey; all of these will benefit schools, as the regulatory impact assessment that lies behind this Bill makes clear.
Let me go further. We are strongly committed to reducing the burdens and bureaucracy placed on schools and LEAs. We established in April 2003 a small body called the Implementation Review Unit, which is not another big body of officials but an independent panel of 12 experienced practitioners selected from schools of each phase across the country with extensive knowledge of the education system. Their job is essentially bureaucracy busting, to look at what is going on in terms of the paper and they have complete freedom to report on and challenge that. For example, following recommendations from the unit, any policy that the DfES wants to implement that could impact on 10 or more schools must now be assessed and authorised by a panel of senior DfES staff to ensure that it is manageable for schools, that it is necessary and that it has minimised any bureaucratic burden.
Within the department we must guard against requiring schools to jump through bureaucratic hurdles and Section 38 of the Education Act 2002 already places duties on the Secretary of State to consider the desirability of sending materials to school before doing so. Having been in the department for six months I can say that there is quite a strong atmosphere about trying to minimise sending stuff out. The automatic mailing of paper to schools has been stopped and replaced with an online ordering system so that schools can help themselves rather than having it all thundering on to their desks.
The 2005 report will concentrate on the remaining paper mailings undertaken to schools by the non-departmental public bodies and to chairs of governors
24 Feb 2005 : Column 1414
by the DfESlooking as to who else might be sending paper and looking at what chairs of governors are getting so we can have a go at that as well.
There is a lot going on and there is plenty more to be done. For instance, we now send out less than a third of the number of documents sent automatically, compared to the 19992000 school year. There is substantial progress in this respect. Bureaucracy has to be continually foughtit is similar to bindweed: it will keep on coming back if it is not fought.
The reason that we do not support the amendment literally is because, as I have instanced, there are already statutory powers and there are already processes in place. What the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, is proposing, tongue-in-cheek, is a little bit of bureaucracy to tackle other bits of bureaucracy. We think we can get to where we need to with him by driving ruthlessly on in the way I have described. I support his intent but I do not think we need the amendment.
Lord Dearing: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I picked up his reference to a committee of officials to control this monster. When I was chairman of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, such bureaucracy, load, and all the initiatives were very much on my mind. A deputy secretary was given special responsibility for dealing with this monster and here we are, 10 years later, and it is still with us. It requires a ministerial champion to achieve anythingpersonal accountability by the Minister. We have discussed the role of HMI and its reports to the Secretary of State. Perhaps HMI might be invited to render reports on this matter and on the progress achieved.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has made some interesting suggestions. I shall not reply to them fully, but we will reflect on them in the department.
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, I agree with the interesting suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. In all our lives, whatever we do, we want to improve things. In discovering how that can be done, there is a likelihood of creating more paperwork and bureaucracy. Sometimes we therefore have to be dramatic and say, "We have to do away with this. We have to do it differently". None of us has done that. The Government and their supporters have not done so and they now admit it. They are constantly increasing paperwork in every sphere. Although they intend to reduce bureaucracy, they do not because they get rid of one bit and create a lot more.
I will analyse the Minister's reply. He gave many instances where he thought bureaucracy was being reduced and I will try to add them up to see what they mean. I will also reflect on what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and we could well return to the matter at Third Reading. However, today I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
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[Amendment No. 105 not moved.]
Schedule 16 [Funding of maintained schools]:
Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 105A:
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 105A, 106A and 106B relate to Schedule 16 and the role of schools forums. Noble Lords who sat through the 2002 Education Billthere are some in the Chamber who I recognise from those daysmay remember that we spent a great deal of time discussing the role of schools forums. They were set up under the 2002 Act and are composed of some local heads and chairs of governors. To some extent, they are a self-perpetuating oligarchy of people; they are not democratically elected. They are representative of the professionals in terms of the heads, and, in terms of chairs of governors, of those members of the population who give a great deal of time and effort voluntarily to helping to run schools.
In that debate, the question was whether, as the Government then wished, schools forums could be the ultimate arbiter of the allocation of local authority budgets. In the 2002 Act, we had for the first time ring-fencing of funding to schools. The allocation of what was left was to go to the schools forums, which were to take decisions on how the extra funding was to be allocated.
In an unholy alliance between the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, on the Opposition Benches and our Benches here, we fought a long battle and eventually secured an amendment to the Bill. So in relation to schools forums, the Act eventually provided that their purpose is,
"to advise the relevant authority on such matters relating to the authority's schools budget as may be prescribed by regulations".
We were well pleased with the amendment and the schools forums were purely advisory.
In our discussion on a different but somewhat analogous amendment in Committee, proposed by my noble friend Lord Livsey, the Minister, when suggesting that Schedule 16 sought to return to the issue, said firmly,
"We propose to extend the powers of schools forums in only two limited areas and to strengthen local accountability in so doing. The powers will apply to two sets of regulations, the first of which govern the composition of the LEA, schools and individual budgets and the second of which governs the determination of the individual school's budget shares".[Official Report, 24/1/05; cols. 104748.]
The relevant paragraph is paragraph 7 of Schedule 16. It all gets hidden because we are amending amendments. The 2002 Act amended the 1998 Act, but paragraph 7 states:
and paragraph (a) is as stated in the 2002 Act
"to advise the relevant authority on such matters relating to the authority's schools budget as may be prescribed by regulations under section 45A(3) or by regulations under this subsection".
"to exercise any function that may be imposed on the schools forum by virtue of section 45A(4A) or 47(2)(g)".
One might well ask what on earth Sections 45A(4A) and 47(2)(g) are about.
If we turn back to paragraph 3(7) of Schedule 16, we see that we are inserting a new subsection (4A) into Section 45A. It concerns a new regulation and states:
"Regulations under subsection (3) may also make provision . . . enabling any expenditure falling outside any classes or descriptions of expenditure prescribed by virtue of subsection (4)(a) to be deducted from the authority's schools budget if the deduction of such expenditure is authorised, on the application of the authority, by the authority's schools forum or the Secretary of State".
In other words, the authority must go cap in hand to its schools forum and say, "Please sir, may we deduct this sum?" Paragraph (b) then states:
"enabling any limit or condition that would otherwise apply by virtue of subsection (4)(b)(i) or (ii) to be varied or excluded, on the application of the authority, by the authority's schools forum or the Secretary of State".
Again, the authority must say, "Please sir, may we do this?".
That is Section 45A(4A), but what about Section 47(2)(g)? If we look at paragraph (d) at the top of page 139 of the Bill under paragraph 6 of the schedule, we find new Section 42(2)(g), which reads as follows:
"authorising local education authorities in prescribed cases to determine (or redetermine) budget shares, to such extent as may be prescribed, in accordance with arrangements approved by the authority's schools forum or the Secretary of State in accordance with the regulations".
Once again, the authority is required to go cap in hand to its schools forum and say, "Please sir". In these circumstances, the schools forum is far from advisory; it is now put back into a determining position in relation to budget shares, which is where the Government originally came from in the 2002 Act.
Therefore, I see this as a sneaky way in which the Government are trying to overturn the will of Parliament. The will of Parliament was quite clear in 2002. We voted not once but several times on this issue before we reached this arrangement with the Minister at the time, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I think that this is a sneaky way in which to act. The measure is hidden from us all at the back of almost the last schedule to the Bill in language that most people cannot understand and it overturns the will of Parliament. I beg to move.
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