I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s points about the cost-efficiency of free schools later in my speech.
Either the Prime Minister has made an announcement without the Chancellor actually funding it, or they are simply disguising yet another eye-watering overspend on their staggeringly inefficient free schools programme and pretending that it is new money for new places. That would not be much of a surprise. The National Audit Office has helpfully reminded the Chancellor and the Secretary of State:
“In 2010 the Department estimated that it would cost £900 million by March 2015 to open 315 schools.”
By March 2015, the Department had spent double that initial budget and not even managed to hit its target for new schools. The NAO found that the Department had already spent around £3.4 billion on the land alone for free schools and it was on course to be Britain’s largest land purchaser, even before this Budget sank yet more money in. The NAO also showed that new places in free schools were far more expensive than those in conventional schools. Will the Minister tell the House and the British people how much money her Department will actually spend on delivering these new free schools, and will she guarantee that they will open in places where there is a clear need for spaces?
The Chancellor pledged £216 million for every other school over a three-year period, as the Secretary of State mentioned in her speech, but the NAO has found that, as John Pugh said, £6.7 billion is necessary just to return all existing schools to a satisfactory condition. The NAO also found that 85% of schools that applied to the priority schools building programme were rejected in the last round, and that that investment was cheaper than the free schools programme.
Of course, we know why the Chancellor focused on free schools despite the cost—because it
“will enable the creation of new selective free schools.”
It was the former Education Secretary who said that he had “had enough of experts”, but not even he tried to bring back grammar schools, let alone pretend that it was a policy for social mobility.