School Funding

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:05 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon 5:05 pm, 25th January 2017

Last week, I was fortunate enough to secure a debate in Westminster Hall on the funding for schools in Devon, and it was well supported by my colleagues from across the county. In that debate, several of us—including my hon. Friend Mr Streeter, who cannot be in his place this afternoon—made it clear that unless there were some changes, we would find it extremely difficult to support the Government.

It was therefore with some interest that I was made aware of this debate, and I thought it would be an occasion—in my case, a very rare one—when I would not be able to support the Government. However, I have studied the motion and the amendment carefully, and having heard the opening remarks of Angela Rayner, I have to say that the Whips can relax, because I am now more convinced than ever that I will be able to support the Government amendment.

I know that the hon. Lady was not in this place during Labour’s rule, but I would say gently to her that had she not been asleep under a tree like Ferdinand the Bull, she might have noticed that during the period from 1997 to 2010 a Labour Government exacerbated the educational funding gap between rural and urban areas. The team we now have in the Department, with the Secretary of State and her Minister for School Standards, are excellent. They inherited an extraordinarily difficult situation, and they are attempting to resolve it in as fair a way as possible. [Interruption.] I know the hon. Lady, who is chuntering from the Opposition Front Bench, was not in the House in 2010, but if she had been, she would have realised, as did many of her colleagues—this fact is worth remembering—that the Exchequer was left completely empty. Labour blew the economy, and they blew their credibility. It was not until 2015 that there was some rebalancing, when the coalition Government provided a much-needed boost in funding for more rural schools.

I would say to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that there is currently a consultation on this issue, and it is one that I and my colleagues in the south-west feel passionately about. I am grateful to the Minister for School Standards, who I understand has agreed to meet a delegation of headteachers from Devon secondary and primary schools. Our situation is very bleak at the moment. Historically, Devon has been one of the lowest-funded education authorities in the country, and when we were told there would be a reassessment, we assumed that it would benefit us after all these years. Following all the campaigning we have done for a fairer deal over the decades, we did not think that the result of the consultation would mean that we were worse off. If implemented, the national funding formula proposals will result in 62% of Devon schools gaining, 37% losing out and 1% remaining the same. The proposals will reduce Devon County Council’s overall schools funding by £500,000 for the first year—but more of that on another occasion.