Standard Spending Assessments

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Employment – in the House of Commons at 1:45 pm on 11th December 1996.

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Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford 1:45 pm, 11th December 1996

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what representations she has received in respect of the method by which the education standard spending assessment is derived. [7063]

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

My right hon. Friend has received a number of representations offering a range of views on possible adjustments to the SSA methodology.

Photo of Mr Colin Shepherd Mr Colin Shepherd , Hereford

May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to sparsity, which is an important matter in my part of the world? Does he agree that, in a sparsely populated area, it is necessary for a local education authority to maintain a larger number of smaller schools than would be needed in a more densely populated urban area? Small, rural schools cannot achieve the same economies of scale as larger schools. In my county, we have to maintain 5.15 schools per 10,000 of the population, compared to a shire average of 4.86 per 10,000. In my part of the world, it is felt that the sparsity factor is not adequately recognised when the overall figures are considered. Will my hon. Friend ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to go back to the Department of the Environment and the local government associations and review the sparsity factor to ensure that it reflects what is necessary?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

As my hon. Friend is aware, I recently met representatives of a group of local authorities, including his. We discussed the sparsity factor and related issues.

My hon. Friend is also aware that the sparsity allowance compensates authorities for the additional costs of providing small schools and for extra transport costs in sparsely populated areas. The review recently undertaken did not put forward any robust evidence for increasing the sparsity factor. However, we shall continue to keep the issue under close review.

Photo of Mr Peter Pike Mr Peter Pike , Burnley

How many local education authorities, if they limited their spending to standard spending assessment levels, would have to reduce their expenditure from what they are spending this year?

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I obviously cannot answer that now. If the hon. Gentleman tables that question as a written question, I shall provide the answer.

The principle has long existed that local authorities are free to spend more or less than individual SSAs on services. I am pleased that many of them spend more than their SSA on education, but that remains their decision, for which they are accountable to their electors.

Photo of Peter Viggers Peter Viggers , Gosport

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the increase in education provision in Hampshire is fully consistent with the increase in inflation and with the priority that we give to education? It is misleading for Hampshire county council to stir up a writing campaign of complaint against the provision.

Photo of Mr Robin Squire Mr Robin Squire , Hornchurch

I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that the national increase in SSAs of 3.4 per cent.—3.6 per cent. overall in education services to local authorities—is comfortably ahead of the rate of inflation and of the projected growth in pupil numbers.