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Building Schools for the Future Programme

Volume 513: debated on Monday 12 July 2010

1. For what reasons he has ended the Building Schools for the Future programme for Ilkley and Bingley grammar schools. (6956)

As I set out in my statement last week, the Building Schools for the Future programme has been over-bureaucratic and inefficient. I therefore decided that where financial close had not been reached, future projects provided under BSF could not go ahead. Ilkley and Bingley grammar school projects have not reached financial close, and BSF plans for those two schools have therefore stopped. However, we will continue to invest in schools capital projects.

In the catchment areas for both Ilkley and Bingley grammar schools, there has been excessive house building, so there is no longer sufficient capacity on their existing sites to meet local demand. Can my right hon. Friend ensure that those schools that need new build to increase capacity to meet local demand will still receive capital expenditure?

I very much take the point made by my hon. Friend. One of the defects of the BSF scheme was that, in many parts of the country where there was real need as a result of a growing population, the money was not there to provide new school places. As a result of our capital review, we will ensure that where there is additional population pressure and additional basic need, particularly in primary schools, which BSF did not cover, we will provide the support that is necessary. I look forward to working with my hon. Friend to help the parents and teachers in those two great schools.

For parents, children and teachers in Ilkley and Bingley, the initial shock of learning that their new school building has been cancelled will have turned to outrage at the seemingly arbitrary and chaotic way in which the Secretary of State has made and announced his decisions. The right hon. Gentleman must now know that there is widespread anger in all parts of the House. Following weekend reports that he was advised by his officials not to publish a list of schools at all, I wrote to him yesterday to request answers in advance of today’s oral questions. I have received a reply that does not answer any of my questions: it merely attaches a new list—list No. 5—containing 20 additional cancelled schools compared with a week ago.

I shall ask the right hon. Gentleman for a straight answer to a specific question. Did he at any point receive written or oral advice from departmental officials or Partnerships for Schools urging him not to publish a list of schools until after he had consulted local authorities, to make sure that his criteria were sound and his facts were right?

The right hon. Gentleman says that there was anger across the House. There was—at the way in which the BSF project had been run by the right hon. Gentleman. There was justifiable anger at the way in which a project that was originally supposed to cost £45 billion ended up costing £55 billion, and it was shared by those who were shocked that under the previous Government, one individual received £1.35 million in consultancy fees—money that should have gone to the front line. From the moment that I took office, everyone involved in this process said to me, “Make sure that you ensure that this faltering and failing project ends.” That is what I have done. I inherited a mess from the right hon. Gentleman, and we are clearing it up.

Order. Both the Secretary of State and the shadow Secretary of State have had their say, and I know that we will now want to return to Ilkley and Bingley.

The right hon. Gentleman cannot give a straight answer to a straight question. The people of Bingley and Ilkley will not be satisfied by that answer, and nor are we. Interestingly, his letter today says very clearly that his fifth list has been validated by local authorities—presumably a clear admission that the information should have been validated before the list was published in the first place, including by Bradford authority, in which the schools of Bingley and Ilkley are situated.

Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman another straight question. Is it not the case that he was advised of the risk of legal challenge from private contractors, but that he personally decided to ignore that advice and take that risk with taxpayers’ money? That is a very simple question. We all know that he is on shaky ground, and that he is fast losing the confidence of pupils, parents and teachers. If he had any sense, he would end this shambles, withdraw these error-strewn lists, and let our communities have new schools.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for once again stretching so far the geographical definition of Bingley and Ilkley. Let me point out that under him the cost of setting up the procurement vehicle for Building Schools for the Future was £10 million, before a single brick was laid. The taxpayers of Bingley and Ilkley have re-elected a Conservative MP because they are disgusted with the waste and squander of the right hon. Gentleman. There is a dividing line between this side of the House and that side of the House: when mistakes are made, we apologise and we take responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman has never apologised for a single mistake in his life; that is why he is on that side of the House and we are on this side of the House clearing up his mess.

Order. I want to help the House. I appreciate the enormous interest in the subject of BSF in Ilkley and Bingley—conceivably also elsewhere—and there will be opportunities, if Members look, to raise these matters later.