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Secondary Schools (Bury)

Volume 487: debated on Monday 26 January 2009

I start by commending all those schools around the country that are this week engaged in activities to commemorate Holocaust memorial day, which is tomorrow. I encourage all Members to sign the condolences book, which is on offer in the House.

On the subject of Building Schools for the Future, in the coming month we will publish updated plans for all areas, including the 70 that are coming into the programme for the first time. I can confirm that that will include Bury.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply and for visiting Bury the other week, when he listened so carefully to the case made by the local authority. I thank him in particular for his visit to my old primary school, the excellent East Ward primary. Can he see anything that would put at risk the plans put forward by the local authority in Bury for the rebuilding and refurbishment of its secondary school estate?

I commend the plans, which Bury has submitted, and also commend Broad Oak college and East Ward primary for the innovative proposal that they have put in as part of those plans. I also congratulate Broad Oak college on its acceptance into the trust programme and on the large jump in results in the last year, which has taken it above our 30 per cent. threshold. As we discussed when I visited the school, there is nothing in our plans that would mean those schools not going ahead, because we are not committed to a £4.5 billion cut to the Building Schools for the Future programme, which would mean hundreds of schools not going ahead. I can reassure my hon. Friend that Labour Members will not be taking forward cuts on that scale.

But does the Secretary of State not accept that in Bury and elsewhere there are many concerns about the Chancellor’s plans to bring forward capital expenditure? Just weeks after his announcement in the pre-Budget report in November, the Learning and Skills Council put on hold future college capital building, and we now learn that many schools are affected by the hold-ups in private finance initiative transactions. Will he assure us that he will get together with the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills to ensure that the money that was promised to be brought forward in colleges and schools does actually materialise?

I would encourage local authorities around the country to work with us to bring forward those capital projects in the school building system. That is a vital thing to do to support the economy at this time. On PFI, the evidence, which was set out last week by the Minister for Schools and Learners, is that we have a number of PFI providers coming forward to support the market at what is a difficult time. In the case of the FE sector, there is no freeze on capital projects; in fact, there has actually been an increase in the number of projects that have been coming through. It is important that they are assessed properly, but there has not been a freeze. This party will not be cutting schools building or FE capital building. We will be expanding them, and I only wish we had cross-party support on that.

My right hon. Friend will know that following the Select Committee’s meeting last week, some people in Bury may have been temporarily rather worried about the future of their school building programme. What he has said today has provided some reassurance, but is it not the case that many of the projects involving both further education and schools are aimed at regeneration, and that to stop them now would have an enormous effect on the regeneration of our towns and cities?

That is exactly why it is important for us not to stop the plans but to accelerate them, and that is what we are doing with Building Schools for the Future, with FE capital and with the primary capital programme. It is vital that we provide those programmes, and that we support the PFI market at this time. I hope that the prospect of a loan of £300 million from the European Investment Bank will also be welcomed.

Because the FE schemes are important, they must be assessed properly by the Learning and Skills Council, and the proper finance needs to be in place. However, along with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, we are committed to doing all that we can to proceed with those projects so that we can continue to support our economies and, as my hon. Friend suggests, support regeneration.

I listened carefully to the Secretary of State’s detailed reply to the question from the hon. Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor), but will he give a clear answer to this question? Despite warnings from the construction industry last week that the Government’s plans to refurbish schools through Building Schools for the Future had ground to a halt, and although just two new PFI schemes have been agreed in the past six months, is he sure—and can he give us a guarantee—that not a single one of the 115 PFI school projects that are due to be delivered next year, including those in Bury, will be delayed any further?

The fact is that we are ahead of schedule with Building Schools for the Future. We have already reached the 50th school, which is ahead of the objective that we set. As I said, a £300 million EIB loan is being discussed, and six new lenders are coming forward. The real threat to school building in our country comes not from our plans to expand school building, but from the £4.5 billion cut proposed by the Conservative party. Conservative Members do not like talking about that, but it is the reality on the ground for schools and governing bodies around the country.