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Local Government Finance

Volume 174: debated on Tuesday 12 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will meet representatives of those local education authorities which have been charge-capped to discuss the implications for education.

My right hon. Friend has no plans to meet representatives of charge-capped authorities. The authorities designated for charge capping had the opportunity to put forward an alternative cap to that proposed by my right hon. Friend. Those who have done so have been given the opportunity to meet my hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government and Inner Cities or the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Chope), to make oral representations.

Is not the Minister simply abandoning the children of the capped authorities? I draw her attention to the document—a copy of which I have placed on the board for the Minister—from the secondary heads of the Calderdale Secondary Head Teachers Association, which highlights the crisis that will occur in education in Calderdale should the Minister go ahead with the cap. May I also draw her attention to the discrepancy between the £1,799 spent on each pupil in Calderdale and the £2,961 spent on the private sector at Leeds grammar school? Is not that simply immoral?

The hon. Lady misunderstands. The responsibility for the policy of charge capping rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. He will be making his decisions on the matter in due course. I also remind the hon. Lady that education is only one part of the total budget on which an authority is judged.

Calderdale council set a community charge of £450 and a safety net of £160 was granted by the Government. Is my hon. Friend aware of that? I hope that my hon. Friend also realises that Calderldale council has before it a budget, which could be instituted, that would reduce spending by £50 a head with no redundancies. Secondary school heads and others are appalled that the socialists push the children to one side.

I respect my hon. Friend's views about his own local authority. It is perfectly true that Calderdale authority set its spending an excessive 21 per cent. higher, equivalent to £160, which is a considerable amount of money for each charge payer to pay. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's condemnation of his irresponsible authority.

Is not it shameful that the Secretary of State for Education and Science appears to have washed his hands of the consequences of poll tax capping on our schools? Given that one half of local authorities' total spending is on education, is the Minister saying that the Secretary of State takes no view as to whether poll tax capping will or will not harm education in those 20 areas?

Will the Minister now answer the question put to her by my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon): what conceivable justification can the Secretary of State for the Environment have for objecting to poll tax-capped authorities spending £1,900 or less per pupil when, in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency, the Government are spending £4,650 on the fees of pupils at Kingswood school, a private day school? Does not that expose the deeply hypocritical double standards operated by the Government?

The hon. Gentleman would be better placed were he aware that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is considering proposals for charge capping. When he has made up his mind and has come to the House with his view, the point will come when the total budget for local authorities confronted with any sort of cap is known and they can then decide for themselves where their priorities lie. That is a matter entirely for the local authorities.

The hon. Gentleman's question about the assisted places scheme was ridiculous. He should look closely at the figures that he is comparing, as he is not comparing like with like. Instead, he pursues the posh socialist's patronising view of the ability of working people to choose where their children go to school. What the people want is choice in education. They do not want to be directed by Opposition Members.

Will my hon. Friend look carefully at the charge-capped authorities and ensure that, when they reduce their expenditure on education, as I am sure many of them will, they do not do it with the maximum pain to parents and children and to maximise the political capital that they can make out of it? Will she also ensure that, where there is local management of schools, central bureaucracies at county hall are dismantled so that the money drifts downwards to the schools, where it is needed?

I note with great interest what my hon. Friend said. He is obviously very knowledgeable about the way in which the education service is organised in his authority's area. It is for the local authorities, should they be confronted with charge capping, to make their own decisions. Of course, there is a route by which schools can ensure that they get the maximum amount of money from the local authority, and it is called seeking grant-maintained status.