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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:57 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Conservative, Thirsk and Malton 10:57 am, 13th March 2020

I am delighted to speak in the debate and to co-sponsor the Bill. When my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury asked me to support it, I quickly agreed for a number of reasons. The first is that he is a very decent fellow, and I enjoyed the time we spent as members of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee. Secondly, I thought it was a very sensible Bill. Thirdly, he told me that the Whips were supporting it, which is always a bit of a help.

The Bill has a simple purpose. It is not about restricting the ability of schools and school governors to set a sensible branding policy for their school. It is about increasing the amount of competition, which it is right that we do. It is great to hear so many Labour Members speaking about the need to create more competition—they are absolutely right that that is what we need to do. We should guard at all costs, at any time, against monopolies, be it private sector monopolies or, even worse, public sector monopolies. When we think about the way we run many different things in this country, we have to try to prevent monopolies. Public sector monopolies are worse because there is nobody to hold them to account. If the Government own a monopoly, who can possibly hold that public sector monopoly to account?

It is right that we support the creation of more competition. Competition is the best way to drive up service and reduce costs, as I know from my own life. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I have been in business for most of my life, and I still am. As we look to become more effective and do better in our marketplace, the thing that has made our business more competitive has been when new competition has entered the market and started to put pressure on our business. At that point, we look at our business model, try to reduce costs in order to gain market share, and try to drive up our service. It is fundamentally right that we try to engender more competition in every single marketplace. Competition is not just a dog-eat-dog situation that is about driving other businesses out of business; it is about giving the consumer more choice. That is the fundamental principle about such needs and our ambition to make the consumer market more competitive. That is so absolutely right, and I believe the Bill does that.

We also have to guard—unfortunately, this tends to happen in some instances—against vested interests. For some reason, some schools will use a uniform policy for the wrong rationale. It is sometimes about generating more profit or more revenue for the school’s suppliers. It is absolutely right that this Bill is not about restricting the ability of a school to put in place a sensible uniform policy that allows for branding. It is simply a Bill that means we do a minimum of branding, but can increase competition for the other elements of the uniform.

In the Government guidance, there is a simple example of how certain schools have been able to increase competition and reduce costs for their uniform. One particular school is Caldew School in Cumbria, and it has done that by keeping as many items of uniform as possible generic. Whether it is a simple pair of black trousers or a white shirt, this is about reducing the number of items in the uniform policy that are branded.

The hon. Member for Weaver Vale talked about restricting the number of branded items to two. I think that would probably be an unreasonable restriction. We can see why a school may want more latitude in having various items of clothing with different badges, but there are ways to do that without excess cost to the consumer, particularly by allowing people to buy a badge, rather than a whole blazer.