It is a pleasure to follow Kevin Hollinrake. We are discussing the economy, growth and productivity. I have been saying for some time that growth cannot just mean “more”; it has to mean “better”—a point echoed in Dame Kate Barker’s excellent recent independent report on the Cambridgeshire economy, which was launched by the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy a few weeks ago. That means upskilling, reskilling and, most importantly, giving young people the best start in life, equipping them with the skills and tools that they need for the future. That is how we create not only a productive workforce, but happy, sustainable, resilient communities. Unfortunately, however, this Budget fails to achieve that. While the skilled workforce in Cambridge has been the driving force behind our economic success, uncertainty around our future relationship with the EU, coupled with the Government’s regressive immigration policies and a failure to make the right investment in skills and infrastructure, risks internationally focused businesses looking elsewhere—a point also echoed in Kate Barker’s report. We must do better.
This Budget failed on substance, but there was also the matter of its tone, as other hon. Members have pointed out. Promising a paltry £400 million for schools to
“buy the little extras they need”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 648, c. 658.]
is an affront—a shameless insult. The Chancellor may say that school funding will be considered in the spending review, but teachers and parents in my constituency have a clear message for this Government: schools are stretched to breaking point. That line from the Chancellor, reminiscent of a 1950s patriarch to a subjugated wife—“Get yourself some little extras. Don’t step out of line. How dare you ask for more?”—shows this Government’s disrespect for not only our hard-working teachers and schools, but future generations, too.
Like many colleagues, I regularly visit schools and colleges. In recent weeks, I have been in nurseries, primaries, secondaries and colleges, and I have been told by two separate headteachers that if funding does not improve, their school will be making redundancies, despite staff already being overstretched. Staff are going off sick due to stress. Some staff recruited internationally have trouble getting visas. The number of children with complex and special educational needs has increased, but schools do not have the resources to provide the support that those children need.
“The Chancellor has shown in this budget the depth of his ignorance on school funding. Schools have a £2 billion shortfall in funding a year—which is set to get worse. Capital funding has been cut by a third. A £400 million one off payment for ‘little extras’
will do nothing to address this. The Government has promised more money for potholes than schools”.
Let me briefly divert into those potholes, because £400 million may sound like a lot, but I hope that Members are aware that the backlog repair bill is £12 billion, meaning that just one in every 30 will be filled. That is a promise for our roads, and I doubt that even one school in 29 will find the “little extras” adequate. A little bit will help, but do not forget the Education Policy Institute’s recent report, which showed that just 60% of teachers continue to teach in state schools five years after qualifying and that applications for teacher training are falling. Despite pupil figures rising by 10% since 2010, teacher numbers have remained static, meaning pupil-to-teacher ratios have risen. Class sizes are bigger, and teachers are working harder and longer hours.
This is not just about schools. Nurseries will struggle to stay in business, according to the Department for Education’s own figures. When I visited a local maintained nursery recently, I was told that, without extra help, it will hit the buffers next April.
At the other end of the age range, sixth-form colleges, too, have been treated with disdain by the Chancellor and his team. Despite the call from the Sixth Form Colleges Association to increase the base rate for all 16 to 18-year-olds, it is currently frozen at £4,000 per student and £3,000 for 18-year-olds—it has been cut twice since 2010.
There is no mention of further education. The further education commissioner told the Select Committee on Education earlier this year that further education funding is “unfair” and “sparse.” I have seen that at first hand at Cambridge Regional College, which I visit regularly. The staff do excellent work with students and apprentices from across the east of England, but the college remains under-resourced and overstretched.
For a Government who claim to care about skills, this is a disgrace. They are failing to provide young people with the education they need to succeed by crippling education budgets. Time is spent on scrimping and organising substitute teachers to plug the gaps, rather than on educating future generations. I was a chair of school governors in the mid-1990s, and it felt just the same under a Tory Government then—what a change a Labour Government made. The current mean spending regime is not the way to create a workforce of creative, empowered and optimistic young people; it just tells them that the Government do not care.