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Local Authority Expenditure

Volume 893: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to ensure that local authorities do not cut back on existing educational provisions without his direct authority.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Conservative-controlled authorities such as Bradford propose to cut the number of teachers by as many as 240 this year, which will mean larger classes and the virtual ending of remedial education? Does he realise that it is very sad for us to see him standing idly by while this happens? Will he assure Labour Members that he will fiercely resist any Treasury attempt to cut the central Government grant for education expenditure next year, and that he will make sure that local authorities spend education money where it counts—on education?

In the rate support grant settlement for the current year adequate allowance was made for education, in the Government's opinion, and there should not be cuts of the size to which my hon. Friend has referred.

The proposition in my hon. Friend's Question would totally change the pattern of the relationship between local and central government, which has been a characteristic of education from its earliest days. One could not lightly entertain that.

Is not the truth of the matter that if the Government are serious about restraining public expenditure there must be such cuts not only in the future, but now?

I do not accept that. Some cuts have already been announced by my predecessor and by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I do not see the case for a further announcement today.

In an earlier reply, my right hon. Friend talked about the relationship between central and local government. Is he not aware that there are wide regional variations in the cuts being made? Whatever my right hon. Friend may say about the rate support grant, some local authorities are taking advantage of the situation to make bigger cuts than would be justified as a result of the rate support grant negotiations.

I share my hon. Friend's concern about the matter. The Government have offered guidance to local authorities about their current expenditure and will continue to offer guidance. But I could not undertake, as my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) asked, to make it conditional that the authorities should do nothing without my prior approval, because I do not have such powers and to seek them would be entirely to change the pattern of the relationship in education between central and local government.

I should like to begin by congratulating the Secretary of State and the Minister on their appointments.

Will the right hon. Gentleman do his utmost to impose on the local education authorities an understanding of the importance of both pre-school and adult education? On every previous occasion when there has been any sign of a cutback, those two sectors have suffered. It is extremely important that there be confidence in adult education, which can be achieved only by a guarantee of continued support.

I am much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his kind personal remarks about my hon. Friend and myself.

As my hon. Friend is known to take a special interest in pre-school education—a passionate interest, if I may say so—and as my own background derives much from adult education, we shall certainly not be unsympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says, but after five days in office I am not in a position to begin laying down general propositions of the kind the hon. Gentleman invited me to make.