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Schools (Capital Funding)

Volume 489: debated on Monday 9 March 2009

Capital spending on schools and children’s play areas of £919 million will be brought forward from 2010-11 to the coming financial year. Of that money, £390 million has been devolved directly to all schools to invest in smaller projects such as new science labs or gyms and £490 million has been allocated to the 116 local authorities who responded to our invitation to accelerate larger-scale spending to the benefit of pupils and local businesses alike.

My right hon. Friend will know that Bristol has been well ahead of the curve in terms of the Building Schools for the Future programme, which has made a real difference to schools in east Bristol in particular. Will he confirm that this new tranche of investment will benefit not just schools in Bristol but local companies, and construction firms in particular?

I can confirm that that is the case. In fact, Bristol brought forward a total of more than £2 million plus a further £500,000 for voluntary aided schools out of a possible £4.2 million, so there is still space there. If Bristol wanted to make a further bid to bring more money forward, that would mean even more contracts for local small businesses as well as more benefits for pupils. Bristol is one of the authorities to have bid and that is very welcome indeed.

Will the Secretary of State confirm again that some of that money will be used for science laboratories in schools? Will he also ensure that they are of dedicated design so that teachers can do the sort of experiments that excite young people into learning the individual science subjects? Will he also consult on risk so that teachers have the courage to do something that goes “Bang” occasionally?

I can confirm that the money is available to schools so that they can make their own decisions, in part. If their decision is to refurb science labs, that is all to the good. Surprisingly, the hon. Gentleman’s authority asked to bring forward only 30 per cent. of the total that it could have brought forward, so it has not brought forward over 85 per cent. of the money that it could have done. There are 33 authorities that have turned down the invitation to bring forward any money at all to 2009-10. That seems to be letting down the small businesses that need the contracts very badly.

My right hon. Friend is right: capital funding is highly valued, and will transform the quality of education. That said, does he understand why I, like my colleagues in Stockton, was disappointed to read that we would lose £5 million from our Building Schools for the Future funding? Can he explain why that is happening, and why it is based on something called the location factor?

The position in Stockton is very odd indeed. We asked the local authority, on more than one occasion, to bring spending forward from 2010-2011 to 2009-10, and it turned down that invitation entirely. I know that the Conservative party has issued a national injunction on bringing forward spending to benefit local businesses, but I would have thought that the right thing for local councils to do would be to ignore central political injunctions, and to do the right thing by local pupils and businesses. The fact that the 33 authorities concerned are disproportionately Conservative authorities is no surprise at all.

On the issue of schools funding, ever since Tony Blair was Prime Minister, there has been a pledge to increase each year the share of the national cake that goes on education funding. That has been honoured since 1998. Does that pledge persist beyond the current spending review?

It does persist for the Labour party. We have made clear our commitment that a rising share of national income will go on education over the course of this Parliament. That is the commitment that we made. It takes forward our goal, which is steadily to close the gap in funding between state schools and independent schools. That is our commitment, but it would not be delivered on if there were a £5 billion cut in public spending and a commensurate cut to the Department for Children, Schools and Families budget. That may not be what the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) wants, but there is a clear commitment to that cut from the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. David Cameron.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the very welcome announcement of Building Schools for the Future investment in Plymouth’s schools; that will be good for education, jobs and small businesses. Can he give me advice on how we can make absolutely sure that the investment is secured? Is there any risk at all that the investment might not be made?

Order. Before the Secretary of State answers, he will understand that there are conventions in the House, and he will keep to those conventions.

I apologise wholeheartedly for that mistake, Mr. Speaker. On Plymouth, the answer is that the authority has asked to bring forward just 3.2 per cent. of the total that it could have brought forward—a matter of a few hundred thousand pounds, when it could have brought forward millions of pounds of extra investment to 2009-10. As for the wider commitment to Building Schools for the Future, we are clear that we will keep this record investment in school buildings moving forward, so that we rebuild or refurbish all secondary schools in our country. It is the Conservative party that is committed to a £4.5 billion cut, which would mean that hundreds of schools around the country would not get the go-ahead if—

Order. It is not good that the Speaker keeps coming in during Question Time, but the Conservative party is well able to put its own case. It is not necessary for the Secretary of State to put its case; that is not what he is here for.