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Schools (Northumberland)

Volume 455: debated on Thursday 11 January 2007

7. What estimate he has made of the number of schools in Northumberland likely to be (a) built and (b) refurbished through the capital spending announced in the Chancellor’s public spending statement. (114155)

I have made no estimate of the number of schools in Northumberland likely to be built or refurbished during the spending review period announced in the Chancellor’s public spending statement. This is because, first, detailed allocations to public authorities have not yet been announced for this period and, secondly, because decision making is carried out at local authority level.

The Minister will know from his recent visit to Northumberland of the desperate need for a new high school in Alnwick, the needs of many other schools in the county, the massive reorganisation that the county is trying to undertake and the fact that all its bids under the building schools for the future programme have failed. The Minister and his officials have promised to undertake some work to understand why that has happened, but by what date will we know that some of that money is going to Northumberland so that some of those schools can be rebuilt?

I enjoyed my visit to Northumberland and our constructive discussions about the problems faced by the authority. The right hon. Gentleman will know that it has accepted a repayable advance in 2007-08 of £2.1 million, and I am considering a request for an additional advance of £3.9 million. He should bear in mind the fact that, 10 years ago under the previous Government, the entire capital allocation was only £3.1 million. We have therefore advanced significant sums but, unfortunately for Northumberland, money under the BSF programme is allocated on the basis of deprivation and need. As we discussed, that presents problems for his authority.

One of the problems that Northumberland faces is that on the basis of funding per pupil, it is in the bottom four of all local education authorities in England. As the Minister saw on his visit, the county has to deal with providing education in one of the most sparsely populated counties in England, coupled with dealing with social deprivation in the former coalfield areas of the south-east of the county. When the Minister looks at the funding formulae, will he take into consideration sparsity and the other factors that deprive Northumberland of a great deal of money?

Certainly we take account of sparsity when we consider the funding formula. I would advise the hon. Gentleman to look at the funding figures, including grants. If he does so, he will see that Northumberland is right next to Dorset, the county that I represent, and is somewhere round the 30th worst funded authority, not the fourth worst funded authority out of the 149.