The new formula for education funding was introduced in 2003–04 after an extensive programme of work by the Department for Education and Skills and its partners. The working group considered almost 100 papers, many of which discussed those aspects of the formula that deal with the relative needs of authorities for education funding. There was also a 12-week consultation on the proposals, and Ministers considered the many thousands of replies very carefully before they took decisions.
I am grateful to the Minister, but we are getting desperate in Worcestershire. We have tried every trick in the book to get a fairer share of education funding, but it does not seem to be working. I am grateful to the Minister for School Standards for agreeing to see a group from Worcestershire shortly to discuss the issue. Before that meeting, perhaps the Under-Secretary could persuade his colleague to speak to the secret weapon that Worcestershire now has at the heart of Government? I can reveal that the Secretary of State's excellent education foundations were partly laid down in Worcestershire at St. Mary's Catholic school in Broadway. I hope that the daughter of Worcestershire is our secret weapon at the heart of Government and is the final straw that breaks the camel's back, giving the county the justice that it has been lacking for so long.
I have followed the discussions both as a Whip and since becoming a Minister. There have been many discussions, questions and debates about the matter and I understand the hon. Gentleman's point of view. I am glad that he is due to meet my hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards shortly. We will continue to keep the situation under review, but the hon. Gentleman knows that we have no intention of making significant changes to the proposed funding arrangements.
Is the Minister aware that Derbyshire is a shire county, and that it has received funding equivalent to more than three times the rate of inflation during the past eight years? As a result, there have been 105 new projects for schools in my constituency during those eight years—more than in the previous 25 years put together, since I was a Member of the House. The most famous school to be replaced is the one that was held up by pit props in those dreary 18 years of the Tory Government. Now, that Church of England school will be transformed into a brand-new school on a different site. That is the truth of what has happened in the past eight years in a mining community that was almost blasted apart by the Tories. No wonder the unemployment is down to less than 4 per cent.
My hon. Friend makes a strong point. The choice is between Labour, under which we continue to invest in schools and improve standards, and the Tory system, which transfers money from state schools to independent schools.
May I tell the Minister that we in Leicestershire will soon be borrowing the pit props from Derbyshire? Leicestershire is at the bottom of the funding list of all county local education authorities in England. It does not cost any less to educate a child in Leicestershire than it does in Derbyshire, Worcestershire or any other county. What is the reason for Leicestershire being at the bottom of the Department's funding list?
I am sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman was not able to get to the Adjournment debate that I replied to in the Chamber a few weeks ago. I am sure he will understand and accept that there has been a significant increase in funding for schools in Leicestershire, not just per pupil, but in terms of capital. We have a system which ensures that most funding goes to the areas that are most deprived and most in need of it.
My hon. Friend will be well aware of the discussions that took place in Cheshire, when Halton and Warrington became unitary authorities. That exposed the way in which education funding had been distributed by previous Administrations. Will my hon. Friend ensure that within counties, the distribution takes into account the needs of poorer districts in the county, and that moneys that the Government provide are properly passported through to meet the needs of schools in deprived areas?
I know that my hon. Friend is a great champion of that in his constituency and in Cheshire. It is clear that our funding formula ensures that the funding is fair, objective and gets to the places where it is most needed. It also provides three-year stability for education authorities and schools, so they know what funding is available to them, allowing them to provide the best possible education and all-round school improvements.