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Schools Management

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 9 December 1987

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11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what extra resources will be made available for the implementation of the schools management proposals.

My right hon. and learned Friend takes account of changes in local authorities statutory responsibilities in determining the provision for local authority current expenditure each year. I do not expect, however, that these proposals will give rise to significant additional costs.

The Minister is bound to be aware that COSLA estimates that it will cost at least £15 million a year to set up and administer the school boards that are envisaged under his proposals. Does he not agree that that would be an enormous and wasteful drain on scarce resources that could better be used in classrooms rather than on financing his ideological white elephant?

I was interested to see the COSLA estimates, which started at £12 million and after a few days increased to £15 million. Those estimates were based upon an assumption that costs that will be incurred by local authorities in bringing new systems for financial control into effect will be part of this process. Even if we take the COSLA approach of "think of a number and double it", relative to the total education budget that is broadly equivalent to an extra two or at most three pupils at an average secondary school.

I have asked the Under-Secretary of State three questions on schools boards, none of which he has answered satisfactorily. In particular, he will never say how much support exists for the ceiling proposals. Will he admit to the House that he will not answer me because there is no support for the ceiling proposals whatsoever, and in view of that will he remove them from the legislation?

I say to the hon. Gentleman in the House that we have embarked upon the biggest consultation exercise ever undertaken by a Government Department. We have had a marvellous response, which we are now analysing. Most people have been sufficiently thoughtful in their response as to preclude us from being able to carry out the kind of crude for and against analysis for which the hon. Gentleman asks.

Order. I heard "deceit". I do not know who said it, but it is not a parliamentary word. Withdraw, please.

In view of your stricture, Mr. Speaker, I withdraw, but the information concerned—

Will my hon. Friend, when he is considering resources for school boards, bear in mind that some of us support the ceiling proposals, myself included? Will he also bear in mind that many of the comments made about parents being unsuitable and untrained to take part in school boards could just as easily be made about unsuitable or untrained councillors or Members of Parliament? That is the kind of nonsense that we have been getting from the Opposition Benches.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support. I assure him that while there are differences of view about the extent to which the ceiling powers should be available to school boards, it is important to remember that the proposals in the consultation paper made it clear that school boards could get ceiling powers only if they are requested and are able to persuade the local authority to give the powers to them.

The hon. Gentleman says "No". There was provision for the Secretary of State to have a general power to raise from floor to ceiling, and we have made it clear throughout the consultations that we envisage using that in the circumstances where many schools had opted for ceilings.