Orders of the Day — EDUCATION BILL [Money]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:31 pm on 10th November 1992.

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Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Carshalton and Wallington 10:31 pm, 10th November 1992

I should have thought that such a local authority might well be interested in new school buildings as well. However, I should prefer to give the hon. Gentleman a considered answer to his precise point by writing to him later.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the administrative expenses of the public inquiries foreshadowed in the Bill. The main additional administrative expense will be cost of the inquiries. The public inquiry procedure is a last resort. The Secretary of State's new powers should concentrate LEA and funding agency minds to bring forward sensible proposals and only when they do not will the Secretary of State need to bring forward his own proposals.

Therefore, public inquiries will be cost-effective. The end product should be a sensible scheme for the removal of surplus places where the LEA or the funding agency has not offered one. Where major reorganisations are concerned, that can result in significant capital and revenue savings over a number of years. The hon. Gentleman should be assured that any additional tasks flowing from the operation of the public inquiry system can be absorbed within the Department for Education manpower planned provision.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the role of ballots and their possible cost. Let me try to reassure him. He follows these matters closely and he will know that hostile local education authorities have sought to exploit the substantial resources at their disposal almost to intimidate governing bodies which may be considering grant-maintained status and to undermine their attempts to inform parents properly.

In contrast, governing bodies have only limited funds at their disposal to present their views about what is best for the future of the school. Therefore, by limiting local authority expenditure and putting modest sums at the disposal of governing bodies for the promotion of grant-maintained status, we intend to redress the balance in order to ensure that there is a balanced debate on the issues. In that way, parents will be given every opportunity to make informed decisions about what is best for the future of their school.

The grant to the governing body will be sufficient to pay for the cost of producing one leaflet about grant-maintained status. It is as modest as that. When the House considers that individual schools are as David to Goliath when faced with large local education authorities determined to argue the case against, it will see that that is only redressing the balance in a fair and reasonable way.

The Bill will help us to get better value from our substantial investment in education. It will do that, first, by providing a framework for the expansion of grant-maintained schools. The independent status of grant-maintained schools and the sense of ownership that they enjoy have significantly enhanced their work. Experience has shown that grant-maintained schools can use to very good effect their share of their former LEA's central costs, which is exactly what is passed over to them.

The Bill will secure better value for money by tackling the scandal of surplus school places. In too many cases, LEAs have failed woefully to take the resolute action required. In consequence, there are now up to 1·5 million surplus school places, the sheer maintenance of which pre-empts an estimated £300 million a year. We need to release as much of that as possible to spend on children's education. Allied to that is the problem of uneconomically small schools which must also be addressed.

The Bill will tackle the problem of surplus places by giving the Secretary of State the powers to direct local education authorities, and the funding authorities if necessary, to bring foward proposals to remove surplus places. The Bill also gives the Secretary of State powers to bring forward his own proposals for schools reorganisation where he is not satisfied that the LEA's proposals adequately address the problem.

In all those ways, and as the White Paper explains, our proposals provide a framework for the efficient and effective development of policies that the Government have pursued since 1979. We believe that they will lead to significant increases in value for money and improvements in quality over the years ahead.