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Local Education Partnerships

Volume 513: debated on Monday 12 July 2010

10. What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of local education partnerships; and if he will make a statement. (6965)

As I set out in my statement to the House last week, local education partnerships are part of an over-bureaucratic and inefficient procurement model. The capital review that I announced last week will consider alternatives to ensure that, at last, capital spending achieves value for money, raises standards, and actually helps the most disadvantaged.

I have raised concerns about the local education partnership in my constituency in relation to the project with Elmlea school. Essentially, money has been snatched from children and schools to line the pockets of contractors and consultants. I am sure that Opposition Members will share my concern about that. Will my right hon. Friend promise to stop this terrible reverse Robin Hood approach to public spending?

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. There is a dividing line between this side of the House and that one. As far as the Opposition are concerned, a Building Schools for the Future programme that enriches consultants and ensures that one man can earn £1.35 million is defensible, whereas we believe that that money should be going to the front line to ensure that the most dilapidated schools are repaired as quickly as possible. It is the contrast between a Government who wasted money like there was no tomorrow and a Government here at last who are building a better tomorrow for all our children.

In that capital spending programme, will money be reserved for areas such as Slough, which has a rapidly growing school population and insufficient secondary school places to educate the children?

I sympathise with the hon. Lady and she is right. One of the reasons why we had to halt the Building Schools for the Future programme was that far too much money was being wasted inefficiently on secondary schools when that money is needed to ensure that children who arrive at primary school in Slough, the south-east and across the country receive the classrooms that they need. Our first priority is ensuring that every child who needs it has a good school place, instead of ensuring that money goes to consultants, architects and the others in receipt of the cash that was being funnelled to them by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls).

Does the Secretary of State accept that many of us, and many people outside, would love these quangos that cannot count and cannot provide accurate lists to be abolished, saving the money on salaries to spend on bricks and mortar?

My right hon. Friend, as ever, is a redoubtable scourge of waste, and it is always a pleasure to hear him as he turns his eye to yet another non-departmental public body.

The letter from the Secretary of State, which was published at 2.35—the fifth list—refers to local education partnerships. It will be no surprise to the House to learn that already, within 25 minutes, the first mistake in this list has been found. The right hon. Gentleman referred earlier to past mistakes and the SATS fiasco. In that case, there was an independent inquiry. If he would like to establish an independent inquiry now into the BSF shambles, he would not find it easy to repeat his failure to answer questions in this House. Is not the truth that he should withdraw this list, apologise to local education partnerships and stop treating children and this House with such total contempt?

I am grateful once more to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I would welcome an inquiry into just what went wrong with Building Schools for the Future and Partnerships for Schools under the previous Government. The Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee pointed out in February 2009 that the estimates of progress for which the right hon. Gentleman’s Government were responsible were fanciful, but steps were not taken to ensure that we were moving in the right direction. The list that we have issued today is one that has been verified by Partnerships for Schools and by the Department for Education. The most important thing that we need to ensure is that the waste that characterised the previous Government does not characterise this one. That is why we have taken steps to ensure that in future the public money that should be going to the front line is protected. The mess that the right hon. Gentleman and his team created is being cleared up by this Government—these two parties—who are at last acting in the public interest.