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School Budgets (South-West)

Volume 403: debated on Monday 10 March 2003

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What assessment he has made of the impact of the increase in national insurance contributions and the new formula spending share on school budgets in the south-west. [108254]

In 2003–04, the national increase in funding is sufficient to cover the pressures that authorities face, including national insurance. However, we appreciate that, for some authorities, low education formula funding increases, coupled with reductions in the standards fund grant, are likely to result in lower budget increases for schools. In the light of representations about that, we have announced an additional grant of £28 million, including £1.2 million for south-west schools.

The Minister will be aware that Poole unitary authority is now the 145th worst funded education authority in the country. Schools face the cuts that he describes, so what action will he take to ensure that improvements in school standards are sustained in Poole and in all other hard-hit authorities across the south-west?

I am, of course, committed to raising school standards in Poole, as elsewhere. I thought that the hon. Lady was about to congratulate the Government on the 29 per cent. increase in funding for, schools in Poole since 1997 and on the £13 million capital programme that will go into action this year. We hope to move to a system of three-year budgets and I encourage the local authority to work closely with schools to ensure that money is getting through to the front line.

How will school budgets in the south-west, and in nearby authorities such as the Isle of Wight, be assisted by the Chancellor's steps to end national pay bargaining announced yesterday?

The Chancellor made himself clear yesterday when he set out a careful approach to public sector and other pay. The Government have already taken steps to ensure that there is sufficient flexibility in the education system, including the recruitment and retention allowances that are available locally. They introduce much-needed flexibility to the system.