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Building Schools for the Future

Volume 448: debated on Thursday 29 June 2006

Derbyshire has an excellent Labour authority. I have met excellent Labour members from that authority, who brought along a delegation from the county council to talk to me about the strong case that they are making for a local education partnership model for Building Schools for the Future. I am considering the case that has been made with colleagues on its own merits and against the national precedent which, if I were to accept the case for Derbyshire, would be set.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He rightly draws attention to the strong performance in comprehensive performance assessment terms of Derbyshire, but does not mention—he could have done—the strong track record of delivering major capital programmes within the county through a locally developed model. Will my hon. Friend carefully consider the risks of adopting a national framework that is as yet untested in a county that currently has the capability to do exactly what is required to time and to budget?

There are many things that I could mention about the excellence of Derbyshire. I wanted to leave some things for my hon. Friend, who is an excellent advocate for his constituents and his county. As for whether there is an untried national framework, there is the Building Schools for the Future programme. It is an enormous capital programme; it is a huge injection of capital spend into our education system to replace or renovate all secondary schools by 2020. In doing so, we have to be conscious of how we manage the market in terms of construction and how we integrate information computer technology, construction and design to produce transformational education as part of the new buildings scheme. We must balance our national programme against any precedent that may be set by Derbyshire. My hon. Friend and his colleagues have made a strong case.

Does my hon. Friend agree that when we met him, along with the four-star representatives from Derbyshire county council, we played a better game than Federer did yesterday? We scored on every point. Does my hon. Friend agree also that if Liberal Democratic control of Liverpool can be provided with an exception to the rule, a four-star authority should also qualify? Will it help our case if we agree now to meet that nice man, the Secretary of State, to clinch this?

Certainly they were four-star reps. I was not delighted with the result in the tennis yesterday. I cannot say that I was immediately reminded of the performance of my hon. Friend’s friends from Derbyshire. Now he mentions it, his friends were very effective during the meeting. The precedent set by allowing Manchester and Liverpool to have their own model was due to particular circumstances, given Manchester’s proven track record in delivering for the Commonwealth games, which was a major capital programme, and Liverpool’s ability properly to integrate the elements which I outlined earlier. I will be discussing the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State this afternoon. We may well decide that we need a further discussion with my hon. Friend and his colleagues from Derbyshire. I will make that decision with the Secretary of State later this afternoon.

In that further discussion, will my hon. Friend note that a precedent would not be created, given the unique combination of Derbyshire’s consistent track performance record assessment and the timing of the waves in Derbyshire for Building Schools for the Future, which means that he could allow the first wave in Bolsover to proceed with the existing partnership? Will he note, too, that the people whom we met were quite unable to explain to Derbyshire Members what a private sector company such as Capita could offer the learning experience and IT integration, compared with experienced Derbyshire county council staff and existing partners?

I am certainly aware of the timing of the two waves—I think that there is a four or five-year gap between them. As my hon. Friend knows, there was a strong case for allowing the Derbyshire framework to proceed with that early wave, largely in Bolsover, before making a judgment about whether or not it worked. It is a strong argument, but as I said, I must weigh it against other arguments on precedent and project risk.