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Amendment of the Law

Part of Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation – in the House of Commons at 8:20 pm on 21st March 2000.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 8:20 pm, 21st March 2000

This Budget is the work of a master craftsman. Every statistic chosen by the Chancellor for today's Budget statement has been very carefully honed and shaped, to paint the rosiest picture possible. The statistics are intended to try to direct and divert both the eye and the ear of the beholder from the substance to the gloss, perhaps misdirecting our attention from some of the Budget's more important details. As other hon. Members have already rightly said, the devil will be in the detail. The Budget may escape more detailed scrutiny in Budget week, and only subsequently be revealed for what it truly is.

Although I welcome any additional resources that the Chancellor has made available today, I should like to deal with three specific matters that will cause my constituents real concern: education, pensions and health.

One should compare today's announcement of an additional £1 billion for education with the tax cuts—which are four times greater than the increase for education—and examine some of the details of the practical effects that that funding increase might have in the constituencies. As I listened to the Chancellor, I was reminded of some papers that I recently received from a constituent of mine, Mr. Coolen, who is a parent governor of Nonsuch primary school, which is in my constituency. In the coming year, his school faces a funding cut of £28,000.

People might think that the school faces that cut because the local education authority has been mean and not done the decent thing by ensuring that the benefits of increased standard spending assessments are fully passported to schools. They would be wrong to think that. People might also think that the local authority has not done enough to ensure that it meets all the tests for the standards fund, and is therefore not benefiting from the Government's largesse in that fund. However, that is not correct. People might even argue that the local authority has not fully funded teachers' pay awards, and has thus shifted the burden on to the poor governors, leaving them to try to make up the difference. That would not be true, either.

In every single case, my local authority—the London borough of Sutton—has done what the Government have asked of it. It has ensured that the money that it says is available is put into schools. The simple fact is that there is not enough money. That is why not only one school, but many of my schools are facing financial difficulties in the coming year.

The specific school that I mentioned is a relatively small primary school. It is finding the going particularly hard and has a particularly severe squeeze on its budget because the number of pupils attending it is being reduced, partly as a consequence of the Government's initiative on reducing class sizes for younger pupils.

So although I entirely welcome the fact that the headmistress will eventually be receiving a cheque for about £3,000 for books and equipment, I urge Ministers not to expect huge parties to be thrown by staff and governors across the land to celebrate the arrival of such a cheque. All that money will do is make good the cuts that have been made because of the general underfunding of education. A good headline in today's press is not an adequate replacement for ensuring that our schools are funded adequately and properly, year in and year out.