Is my hon. Friend aware that Sheffield keeps a largish chunk of its funding for central services? I see in the Chamber two former leaders of Sheffield city council. Is not the situation in Sheffield one of the worst in the country? Head teachers are sick and tired of Sheffield keeping back funding for their schools. Two years ago—I am aware that, in Labour politics, two years is a long time—the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) said that 90 per cent. of the funding should go to schools. Is it not time that Sheffield started practising what the hon. Gentleman preaches?
My hon. Friend puts his question well. I can confirm that, in the current year, Sheffield lies 114th out of 119 local education authorities, having delegated 87.4 per cent. of its budget. Only five authorities are worse. However, I have good news for my hon. Friend: one of the early pieces of legislation in our fifth term in government will be an education Bill to enact last summer's White Paper, whereby we shall require authorities to delegate 95 per cent. of their budget. That will be good news for head teachers in my hon. Friend's constituency because, on this year's figures, it would mean another £11 million going into schools.
Is the Minister aware that, in Wolverhampton—my local authority—we are delegating 93 per cent. of the budget to schools and retaining 7 per cent. for central administration but, after several years of cuts, we find that, once again, this year, the Minister has slashed our standard spending assessment, and now we find that our revenue support grant settlement is the worst of the 36 metropolitan districts in England?
I can confirm that Wolverhampton delegates a significant percentage of its budget to schools—slightly below the 93 per cent. mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. On the substance of the question as it developed, I remind the hon. Gentleman that, for the forthcoming year, SSAs—education support—increased nationally by 3.6 per cent. on average. That average will be affected across every local education authority in accordance with any increase or reduction in the number of pupils. The question that parents and teachers in Wolverhampton must be asking is how, year after year, Wolverhampton is proposing cuts in services while we, at the centre, are proposing further increases in support.
I was dismayed by the implications of the exchange between my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Sir I. Patnick) and the Minister. It seems that substantial funds are being diverted from the classroom and the teacher to the bureaucrats in council offices. That must be to the substantial disadvantage of the children of Sheffield. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is now time to re-examine the role-of-local education authorities? We should undertake a root-and-branch examination of their powers and responsibilities. It is time that we looked hard to see what they do and the costs that are incurred.
I can confirm that, in the current year, the range of budget delegated, on precisely the same definition, ranges from 85.1 to 96.1 per cent. Hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber can see what a significant difference it would make if all authorities delegated at the average of about 90 per cent.
My hon. Friend will remember our White Paper in which we set out two or three essential tasks for local education authorities, particularly lending support to schools that may be failing or which are seriously weak. My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is important that, year by year, local authorities look to see what more they can delegate to schools rather than waiting for legislation to force them to do so.
When local education authorities delegate funds to individual schools, does the Minister believe that any part of that money should be used to support the Conservative party? Is the Minister aware that, at the beginning of this month, the Huntingdon Conservative constituency association wrote letters to all the schools in the Prime Minister's constituency urging them to contribute to the Conservative party's fighting fund? What advice would the Minister give those schools on how to respond to the letter?
I am not sure that I can improve on the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). Leaving aside the fact that the schools in question must benefit from the nature of the right hon. Member who represents them, I suppose the response that many of them might make is the same as I make when I get unsolicited mail from the Liberal Democrats.