Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 1st February 1995.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Patrick Nicholls Mr Patrick Nicholls , Teignbridge 6:50 pm, 1st February 1995

No; time is short. My hon. Friend can make his own speech in his own way.

The Liberals say that an increase that is less than the increase they want is really a cut. They think that, if they say that long enough, someone will believe them. Once they have convinced parents that the cuts have been imposed by the Government—almost suggesting that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said that there must be cuts in the provision of a particular school—we suddenly discover the existence of reserves. How did I find out about the reserves? A headmaster in my constituency telephoned me. He said, "Have a look at the papers. They have squirrelled away £17 million." When I said, "If there is £17 million there, why do you not take the matter up with the council?" he said, "It is more than my job is worth." There is a climate of fear in Devon. The headmaster will not even take the matter up with his own Member of Parliament.

What was the attitude of the Liberal county council to the reserves? On day one it denied that they existed; on day two it said that it was scandalous to suggest that they amounted to £17 million—there was only £16.8 million. We now discover from a written parliamentary answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) that there may be as much as £51 million.

The fact is—and parents in Devon needed to know this—that a local education authority can set its own agenda. It is entitled to decide its own priorities, and the priority of Devon county council is to threaten to cut the number of teachers, when in the past year it has increased staff numbers by a huge 718. Then it has the nerve to turn around and say that, because of Government action, it will have to cut pupil numbers. That is utterly dishonest. Here is a body that employs more people than the European Union, and it says that it must cut the number of teachers.

The LEA has a question to answer: where do its priorities lie? Is it concerned about core functions at county hall, or about services in county schools? I do not expect parents to accept uncritically everything that my hon. Friend the Minister will say; not do I expect them to accept uncritically anything that a Conservative Member of Parliament says. All that I will say to parents in Devon is this. Democracy is a two-way street, and citizens have a responsibility to see what is being done in their names. Yes, by all means send in the letters in their hundreds and question Conservative Members of Parliament about what they are doing, but also question the LEA, which has the funds to set its own priorities if it wishes. Ultimately, if parents question both Members of Parliament and the LEA, they should get the truth, but that process has not yet started in Devon. I should like to think that, as a result of tonight's debate, it will.