The Government's expenditure plans include a number of measures designed to promote efficiency among local education authorities. These include targets for the removal of surplus places from the schools and for tighter staffing ratios in further education.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer, but what is to be done about the hangers-on? Do not recent figures show that some local education authorities employ twice as many support staff as necessary and then bleat that they have insufficient sums to pay the teachers, provide equipment or maintain the schools?
My hon. Friend is on to a good point and, indeed, he tabled a written question about it last week. The point is that there is a large administrative tail in many local education authorities. Much of the money would be better spent on supporting teaching with more books, services and equipment.
If the Secretary of State is sincere about using education resources efficiently, may I draw to his attention the fact that since the secondary reorganisation in 1982 eight secondary schools in Manchester have been on split sites awaiting permission from the Department to spend money on putting the schools on one site, which would bring greater efficiency? When will he do something about that?
This year current spending on education is planned to increase by 19 per cent., or £2 billion. [Interruption.] As a result of the conduct of the economy over the past seven years the Government have been able both to increase expenditure on social priority areas and to cut taxation.
I can reassure my hon. Friend and the whole House that rural schools, principally rural primary schools, provide a necessary and valuable contribution to education and to society. I can assure her that any proposals for closure are examined most carefully before they are approved, if they are approved.
Does the Secretary of State accept that one of the measures of a local education authority's efficiency is the number of nursery places that it can provide? Does he further accept that some of the best provide nursery places for two thirds of their children and some of the worst provide none? Is it pure coincidence that the best 10 providers are Labour-controlled authorities and the worst 10 are Conservative or alliance-controlled authorities?
A higher proportion of rising fives and children below four years of age are now going to some form of nursery education than ever before. That is the record of this Government.
As regards the spending differences between Labour and Conservative authorities, some Labour authorities spend a little more than Conservative authorities, but Conservative authorities get as good, and in some cases better, examination results at a lower cost.