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Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:22 pm on 1st February 1995.

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Photo of Mr Gerry Steinberg Mr Gerry Steinberg , City of Durham 7:22 pm, 1st February 1995

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me if I do not do so; I have a lot to say.

Durham county council's education committee has been instructed by the policy resources committee to cut £2.125 million from its budget. No final decision has been made, but the cuts may include a reduction in education welfare posts, an increase in outdoor education charges, cuts in swimming provision, cuts in child guidance and an increase in school meal prices. The hon. Member for West Derbyshire may disagree, but many children need subsidised or free meals because it is often the only decent meal that they get during the day. Cuts will be made in resources for local education authority initiatives and in the GEST—grants for education support and training—programme.

School budgets will have to be cut because the Government have reduced the SSA calculations in Durham by £95 per primary school child and £195 for each secondary school pupil. As I have already said, the Government have made no provision for teachers' pay increases.

That scandal means that the council has no alternative but to reflect those cuts in school budgets. In addition to failing to fund teachers' pay increases, the Government have failed to recognise the increase in the number of students or to take account of inflation. Schools will have to deal with those factors themselves.

What does that mean to individual schools? The head teacher of Durham Johnston school told me that if his funding is cut by 4 per cent., which seems likely, he will have to find £120,000 from his budget. Apart from staffing, which accounts for 80 per cent. of his budget, he will have to cut repairs and maintenance to his school, he will have to stop purchasing any new furniture or replacing computers. He will have to reduce ground maintenance and cut a large percentage from the allocation to subject departments to buy books and equipment. Mr. Dunford, the head teacher, wrote to me and said: This school now has just over 1,400 pupils, including a Sixth Form of 280. It is, as you know, popular and over-subscribed. In short, it is not the sort or school which we were led to believe would have financial problems under the LMS formula. But there are no safe havens now—all schools are facing a very difficult financial year. If this were to be an isolated school year, the situation would look bad, but what concerns me even more is that we are told that the Department of the Environment intends to follow the same policy in local government finance for the next two years. If we are asked to prune our budget by a similar amount in 1996 and 1997, I do not believe that it will be possible to educate all children full-time up to the age of 16. We will not be able to afford the staff to be able to do so.I believe that the situation is reaching a crisis point". That reveals a desperate situation. Those are the words of one of the country's most respected head teachers—I am not exaggerating as I believe he is vice-president of the Secondary Heads Association and serves on many national bodies. If a head teacher of his renown is saying such things, we are certainly in a deplorable state.

Even the Secretary of State for Education wrote to her Cabinet colleagues recently about the effect that the teachers' pay award would have on school budgets. She recognised that schools were in an impossible position. She has already urged the Prime Minister to cut any recommendations of the independent—or so-called independent—teachers' pay review body to 1.5 per cent. She recognises that local education authorities cannot pay any more. Once again, teachers are going to be punished thanks to the inadequacy of this year's local government finance settlement. The independent review body should recommend a fair pay settlement and the Government should fund it fully.

The revenue settlement this year clearly shows the Government's lack of commitment to state education and, in particular, to teachers. If the Government had any real commitment to the state system, they would ensure that schools were well resourced and teachers were well rewarded for their work, but all that we get from them is rhetoric. In the meantime, however, millions of children go on suffering in our schools.