I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman and I appreciate the expertise that he brings to these issues. He raises an important point about how we plan for the future and look at what worked during the pandemic and what needs to be done differently. I am glad that the inquiry into our covid response will now consider issues around children and schools. That is right and important.
I have a significant degree of sympathy for the very difficult decisions that Ministers faced right at the start of the pandemic when confronted with an unknown virus. We can all remember how terrifying that was; I think it was the right decision when Ministers acted in the way they did. What I find inexcusable, however, is that, from that point, there was no proper plan to get our children back to school as quickly as possible—to use all available methods to do that as safely as possible. I find it incomprehensible that we still do not have a proper plan, but I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s point about the need to ensure that, in the event that we see such a terrible situation again, our children are put first. I am afraid to say that they were not during this pandemic.
We see this as schools face eyewatering costs for their energy. A primary school on Merseyside recently contacted me with its electricity bills from April last year and April this year. For April 2021, its electricity bill was £1,514. For April 2022, its electricity bill was £8,145—a rise of more than 400%. Where are the Government, as those costs soar and our schools need help to protect children’s learning from rising crisis, to ensure that energy bills are not being paid by cutting back on staff, activities and summer trips, and the quality of children’s school lunches? Nowhere. Again and again, we see a Government not leading the way but leaving schools to work out 100 different solutions on their own.