My hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Urban Regeneration is reviewing the area cost adjustment. We also keep under review the education factors in the standard spending assessment methodology. Before making any changes, we will take careful account of the views of the local authority associations.
I thank my hon. Friend for responding positively to the representations that I and my Dorset colleagues made to him recently about the adverse comparisons between neighbouring LEAs. Will any new LEA funding formulas be more transparent and demonstrate to governors and parents that they reflect fairly the actual costs of providing education in our schools?
My hon. Friend refers to the alluring prospect of some simple formula involving a sum per pupil. In practice, there would always have to be some way of allowing for the inevitably higher costs of educating pupils in certain circumstances and areas. As the House will be aware, we are looking at the possibility of a national funding formula, but I would not want to mislead the House by suggesting that it is imminent. Significant practical difficulties have to be overcome.
Mr. William O'Brien:
When considering a review of the education SSAs, will the Minister take into consideration the need to provide more resources to make available a general educational facility for nursery schools? When adjusting the SSAs, will he also take into consideration consultation with parent and teacher organisations?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the SSA is ultimately simply a distribution mechanism. The total size of the budget is determined in discussion with other Government colleagues. If the hon. Gentleman is adding his name and suggestion to the growing list of Labour commitments, we would simply note it.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there will be widespread support, especially at school level, for the prospect of a re-think of the way in which we fund our schools and that there is overwhelming evidence that needs-led funding requires active consideration? Is he also aware that the Select Committee on Education has done some work on that subject and has produced a report, which would not be a blueprint but would nevertheless add to the debate on the possibilities of a national funding formula and which I commend to him?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, whose work as Chairman of the Select Committee on Education is so good, sound and gives us many practical suggestions, as indeed, is the work of the Select Committee as a whole. From his position, he will know how true were my earlier comments about the difficulties that attend such a change.
Even if it were conceivable that the Government were to move swiftly to change the formula, how soon would they be able to repair the damage done to the fabric of our education system this year? The National Association of Head Teachers has pointed out that already more than 2,500 teachers' jobs have gone, £300 million has been stripped from schools' budgets and the Government's depredation, to refer to an earlier question, has been much more damaging than that which any vandals could do.
The hon. Gentleman makes no reference to the rising standards in our schools, which is the key point of education. He also makes no reference to the significantly increased sums of capital build in the forthcoming year. If he is suggesting that he would spend significantly greater sums were his party in government, let him come up with a figure, say what it is and get the approval of the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), then we will start to take his criticism seriously.