Skip to main content

Building Schools for the Future

Volume 514: debated on Wednesday 21 July 2010

[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

This is the first opportunity formally to debate the consequences of the announcement made by the Secretary of State for Education on 5 July about axing the previous Labour Government’s Building Schools for the Future programme. There is widespread anger and disbelief among colleagues from all parties about the devastating impact that such a move will have on education provision in the communities that they serve. Proportionally, no community has felt the impact more than Halton.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson) intended to contribute to the debate, but he cannot attend due to unforeseen circumstances. He takes a particular interest in the issue. The announcement by the Secretary of State for Education will affect the following schools in my constituency: Ashley special school, Cavendish special school and Chestnut Lodge special school. Fairfield high school had been proposed for closure, but the Secretary of State decided that the programme should be stopped, due to a clerical error on the form. That decision was made in the same week that a party was held as a thank you to those people who supported the school over the years prior to its closure—another error. Saints Peter and Paul Catholic high school will also be affected, as will St Chad’s Catholic high school, the Bankfield school—my former school—the Bridge pupil referral unit, the Gateway pupil referral unit, and the Heath school.

Three school-building programmes are pending review: Halton high school academy, which is not in my constituency, but in that of the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans); Grange comprehensive; and the Wade Deacon high school, which was to absorb those pupils who would have gone to Fairfield high school prior to its closure.

All the secondary schools in Halton have been affected, as have the lives of 7,300 children, together with their teachers, parents and the wider community. The dedication of staff and governors and the hard work of pupils has produced a marked improvement in GCSE results over recent years, making Halton one of the most improved areas in the country. Last year, 72% of pupils acquired at least five top grades, surpassing the national average, and for the second year running, Halton has achieved more than 70% attainment. That is a remarkable increase of 34% from 1998 results. The percentage of pupils in Halton who gained a minimum of five A to C grades at GCSE, including English and maths, has increased by nearly one fifth since 1998, from 24.7% to 44.4% in 2009. In one of the most deprived boroughs in the country, that is a spectacular result.

It is disgraceful that the new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government have taken a devastating axe to the vital funding for schools in Halton, which is one of four Labour-held constituencies among the six seats in England and Wales where school culls that go into double figures have been inflicted. We all remember how the previous Conservative Government left many school buildings dilapidated and crumbling, and the Labour Government had to pick up the pieces and initiate the biggest school building programme in over a century.

Although I appreciate the pain that is felt across communities due to the cuts that have had to be made, is the hon. Gentleman aware of some of the downfalls in the mechanism of the BSF programme and the local education partnerships that delivered it? I have heard representations from schools that have undergone rebuilding under BSF. They were concerned that 90% of the local education partnerships that delivered the programme were owned by the contractor, and therefore the interests of the local education partnership and the builder were those of the contractor, not of the school. Another concern was that the contractor operated at an overhead and profit level of 8% plus, as opposed to 4% on the market. Those concerns were raised by teachers and head teachers who saw money going not to their school but to contractors and consultants.

I do not try to pretend that the BSF programme was perfect. If the hon. Lady is patient, I shall deal with some of those issues later in my speech. She raises an important point.

It seems abundantly clear that many of the assertions made by the Secretary of State in his announcement of 5 July are plain wrong. First, his boast about the Government’s determination

“to make opportunity more equal”


“to help the most disadvantaged pupils”—[Official Report, 5 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 47.]

is laughable—well, it would be laughable if the consequences of his policies were not so tragically devastating to communities such as those in Halton that I represent. I fail to see how targeting the second smallest unitary authority in England, which serves the country’s 30th most deprived area, with the worst cuts to the BSF programme in the north-west will bring any benefit to the disadvantaged. Will the Minister explain how the cull of 100 BSF projects, with a further 21 under discussion, in the relatively deprived region of the north-west—over half the projects affected are in Cheshire and Merseyside—constitutes proportionate, fair and decent action by the Government?

We were committed to the programme as it stood, but a myth has been put around by the Government. With the loss of five new schools in Wigan, 10 in Blackpool, 25 in Liverpool and 27 across Greater Manchester, the only aspect of equality in the policies of the Secretary of State is the collective discrimination against the schools and colleges of the north-west. I also wish to challenge the Secretary of State’s implicit view that the BSF programme is incompatible with prioritising the raising of school standards in pupil attainment and behaviour through the quality of teaching and learning.

On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the policy commitments given by the previous Government, a commitment was made, but it was dependent on underspend—something that the Treasury has subsequently confirmed does not exist. Therefore, the policy was unobtainable.

We need to get to the nub of the problem. We can go back and look at who was responsible for the economic crisis, the world crisis and so forth. The Conservative party keeps trying to suggest that somehow this problem is down to the way that the previous Government managed the economy.

I have not yet answered the last question. The permanent secretary in the Department for Education wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) and clearly said that the money was there. He would have asked for a letter of direction if there had been any impropriety or problems with that, but he did not do so. That is the key point, and something that the Conservative party keeps trying to push, although it is plain wrong.

I would like to make some progress. It is self-evident that the quality of the built teaching and learning environment, which embraces school buildings and the state-of-the-art facilities that they should house, will have a bearing on pupil attainment and the quality of teaching.

Does my hon. Friend agree that although the cuts to the BSF programme are devastating, cuts to the information and communications technology upgrade are equally, if not more, damaging to the future of our children’s education?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I shall return to it at the end of my speech in some of the questions that I put to the Minister. He should not take my word on the situation, but should consider the findings of the 2010 school environment survey, conducted by the British Council for School Environments and the Teacher Support Network, in conjunction with the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. The report shows that 95.8% of teachers believe that the school built environment influences pupil behaviour, and over half felt that their surroundings had a negative effect. Investment in school buildings has had a more positive impact on teachers and learners, and such work must continue. That is evidenced by the fact that three quarters of teachers now regard their school as effective and adequate at providing an effective learning environment. That compares with two thirds of teachers in 2007.

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, asserts:

“Teachers work incredibly hard to give their pupils a good education regardless of the physical environment, but it is much harder for children to concentrate if the classroom is too hot or cold or they can’t hear properly. We can’t stress enough that for teachers and children to teach and learn in an effective manner, school buildings need to be safe, clean, and inspiring.”

I also draw the Minister’s attention to last year’s report by the Government’s favourite auditor, KPMG, on the effects of the private finance initiative, which is central to many BSF projects, on education standards. It concluded that student attainment is 44% higher in PFI schools than in conventional schools, and it built on an American report from 2002 entitled, “Do school facilities affect academic outcomes?” That report found that

“spatial configurations, noise, heat, cold, light and air quality obviously bear on students’ and teachers’ ability to perform. This can be achieved within the limits of existing knowledge, technology and materials; it just requires adequate funding, competent design, construction and maintenance.”

In his article in The Guardian on 8 July, John Crace said that Michael Gove underestimates the impact of surroundings on school pupils.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about buildings and their impact on teaching and children. I also heard him talk of dilapidated and crumbling schools. I wonder what he would say to the parents and teachers at two schools in my constituency: Todmorden and Calder high schools’ buildings are falling down and are among the five worst in the country. The local authority has spent more than £3.5 million in the last two years alone to keep them open. However, the previous Government’s BSF programme did not apply to those schools because they attain too highly and are not considered to have deprivation. What would the hon. Gentleman say to my constituents?

I do not know about schools attaining too highly, but I shall mention later a couple of schools in my constituency in that regard. The fact remains that, during all the years in the 1980s and 1990s when the Conservative party was in government, schools fell into a state of ever more disrepair, because there was little money for repairs. When Labour was in government, at least £24 million was spent in my constituency on improving the state of school buildings.

In his statement to the House on 5 July, the Secretary of State referred to a BSF school from which pupils had been sent home because of bad ventilation, leading to the use of additional mobile air conditioners in the summer months. However, as a direct consequence of the measures that he announced this month, mobile classrooms, decades-old prefabs and the occasional shipping container that are either too hot in summer or too cold in the winter will not now be replaced with 21st century state-of-the-art facilities, leaving staff and students at dozens of schools dejected at having dilapidated classrooms after years of work on Building Schools for the Future.

The BSF cuts mean that Halton goes from being an authority with sufficient school places overall to one with insufficient capacity. They mean that an increasing number of children will have their lessons in mobile classrooms when they should have been in brand new schools. With Labour, it was building for the future; with the Con-Lib coalition, it is more like “Back to the Future” of the 1980s, with rampant ideological cuts and failing facilities in schools.

The Secretary of State justified his axing of Building Schools for the Future on the ground that it failed to provide value for money. I suggest to the Minister that precisely the opposite is true. Although the National Audit Office of March last year made some criticisms of BSF, on the question of value for money it said:

“The cost of the programme has increased by 16 to 23 per cent in real terms to between £52 and £55 billion, in large part because of decisions to increase its scope but also because of increased building cost inflation.”

Tellingly, the NAO went on to say:

“The Department and PfS”—

Partnerships for Schools—

“have taken measures to help control capital costs so that BSF school capital costs are similar to most other school buildings programmes and cheaper than Academies built before their integration into BSF.”

My local authority is Lancashire county council, which has just lost Building Schools for the Future phases 4 and 5. The administrative cost of the £100 million programme for phase 4 work was £893,000. I return to the point that my hon. Friend made about politics. Does he agree that the comments made by Conservative Members are focused on the politics, not on the facts, given that £893,000 is less than 1% of £100 million and construction was due to start at the end of this year?

The focus should be that our children have been robbed of state-of-the-art school buildings. The fact remains that the money was there to carry out the programme, but the coalition Government chose, for ideological reasons, to put it towards free schools. It was their choice.

I return to the importance of the changes in my constituency. In Halton and across the piece, I suspect, the reduction in the number of school sites would have led to reduced operational staffing and running costs, allowing more money to be spent on improving pupil attainment and ensuring the high-quality teaching that the Secretary of State purports to prioritise. Indeed, Halton council was commended by the previous Government for the manner in which it approached the proposed reorganisation of secondary school provision throughout the borough, not least for achieving value for money. In Halton, significant costs savings have been achieved since the inception of the programme through the establishment of a joint delivery team with Warrington borough council. That enabled both authorities to share procurement costs, staff, expertise and best practice. At each stage of the BSF programme, the authority met the key milestones and used the lessons learned to reduce the time scale and milestones for the Warrington wave 7 programme.

Another key point is that, whereas the Secretary of State says that the money is not there and that BSF was badly bureaucratic, Halton borough council has shown that it can be done and that there are benefits.

The hon. Gentleman seems to be living in a parallel universe in which no cuts would have been made under Labour. However, the former Education Secretary said in The Sunday Times that he would like to cut the number of heads and deputy heads by 3,000.

The hon. Gentleman is now quite an experienced Member and I respect him, but we have never said that there would have been no cuts. There would have been cuts. I put it to him that his Government said that they would not cut front-line education services, but what is more front-line than school buildings and the importance of improving them?

Going back to what was done by Halton borough council, the timeline for the programme has been reduced by 50% compared with the PFS standard. Efficiencies were also planned through the integration of multi-agency services within school facilities such as health, leisure and outreach services. A strategic approach to ensure that we moved away from a “patch and mend” model—the hallmark of the Conservative years—to an overarching model that considers condition, suitability and sufficiency is now in jeopardy.

The Secretary of State says that the Government remain committed to supporting capital spending in schools and has instituted a review aimed at ensuring that value for money is guaranteed through the process. However, he could not answer my written question of 12 July about when he expects the review to be completed. That is more evidence of a rushed decision. Investing in capital spending and culling BSF would appear to be an oxymoron of the highest order. I fear that, like their vague aspiration to replace the future jobs fund, the nation will be lumbered with another watered-down and ineffective alternative, published at a yet unspecified time.

Another feature of the ill thought out and rushed nature of the policy is the prospect hanging over local authorities of legal action by contractors following the termination of school building projects. Last week, I asked whether the Education Department intends to issue advice to councils that may face litigation. The Minister said that he would reply as soon as possible, so I ask him again whether he can provide me with an answer to that question. Again, it shows that this was a rushed, botched job.

As in the wider economy, the Government seem intent on choking growth and development, and the BSF cull will play its part. Although it is easy to recognise the physical benefits that will be lost due to the end of the building programme, added value benefits will also be lost that would have been a major boost for the local economy and would have addressed many of the social, economic and educational challenges faced by Halton and Warrington. Halton borough council has told me that a number of social, economic and regeneration initiatives had been developed within its BSF submissions. The management and ongoing development of those initiatives were fully costed and allocated within the local education partnership, and the generation of social and economic benefits would have given truly additional value. Some 500 jobs would have been created, whether directly or through the supply chain and so on. that would have been a most important factor in the process.

It is important to recognise how schools in my borough, such as Heath and St Chad schools, will be hit. They are expanding schools and would have had extra capacity, but that is now in jeopardy. Those schools will not be able to expand, despite their popularity, even though it is an important part of the Government’s policy to recognise and expand such schools. That is also the case with Bankfield school, my old school, which will now have difficulty in expanding. As a result, yet more children will have to be educated in mobile classrooms, which takes us back to the conditions of the 1980s and 1990s.

Wade Deacon high school, which had a 100% pass mark for grades A to C last year, serves both disadvantaged and more prosperous areas. When it amalgamates with Fairfield school, which has been closed, it will face a difficult job managing the two sites. The situation is far from ideal; there are busy roads to cross and it will be hard to manage teachers’ timetables. Under the BSF programme, the two schools would have been on one site. In another example, the Grange would have been an all-through school, catering for children between the ages of three and 16, with a number of schools coming together on one site. There will be major consequences if that school does not go ahead. There are significant public health and safety concerns—I mentioned Bankfield and the problems of moving between different school buildings—as well as a problem of insufficient capacity at other schools. Visiting schools in my constituency last week, I saw that profound impact of the decision on them.

Community access to schools has many advantages, not least in raising educational interest and encouraging adult involvement, which leads to the development of a better learning culture. In areas such as mine, where that culture has not always prevailed in many homes, community access provides a massive opportunity for improvement.

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that problems were caused in many schools by the private finance initiative of the BSF programme? Communities have had to pay extra money, or there has been a lack of flexibility in their being able to use rebuilt BSF school facilities.

I can speak only for my own constituency. Having spoken to a number of head teachers in the past week, I found the exact opposite to be the case. Schools were being designed to bring in the communities and increase involvement, particularly through some of the wider initiatives. Schools in my constituency did not face that problem—quite the opposite.

Because Halton’s population suffers some of the poorest health in the country, health is a top priority, which is why it was part of the BSF project. A lot of work was done locally to consider how better community facilities could be used to promote improvements in health and to tackle, for instance, the very high teenage pregnancy rate within the Halton borough. The social return on investment in terms of savings from reductions in the numbers of exclusions and of those not in employment, education or training, from welfare benefits and from improvements to mental health and community inclusion and cohesion—all goals the Government claim to aspire to and cherish—could amount to something like £34 million. Yet gone are the opportunities that have already consumed thousands of work hours and millions of pounds to create well designed, environmentally sustainable, Disability Discrimination Act-compliant state-of-the-art classrooms and facilities fit for purpose for the 21st century in schools in Halton and throughout the country.

I end with a few questions. What are the Government doing about the ICT funding that is part of the project? If the sample schools in my constituency were to get the go-ahead—that would be superb—they would get ICT funding as well, but what about the other schools that are not given capital funding to rebuild, after the Government’s review is finished?

I also have a question about the terms of reference for the capital spending review—I hope that we will get some idea when that will report. Buried deep down in those terms is the requirement to look at regulations relating to school playing fields. The regulations are there to protect school playing fields, so can the Minister give a categorical assurance that no changes will be made that will make the sale of school playing fields easier, or is he content not only to steal schools out of the hands of children but to sell off their playing fields as well? Will the Minister guarantee a strategic approach to the school estate following the demise of BSF by delivering 21st century learning space in the schools in my constituency? BSF would have provided them with a 25-year commitment to continue to invest in their buildings.

The chaos caused by the various incorrect lists continues. The Department does not take a consistent approach to the different education authorities and schools. For instance, academies or their sponsors had five days to provide the information that was requested from them, whereas the sample schools were asked last Friday to provide the information this Monday. At 8 o’clock last night, my local authority had a phone call asking it to provide building condition information for one school by 8 this morning, and for another school at 8.20 am. In addition, the local authority was told that Partnerships for Schools officers would be in Halton today, taking photographs of the condition problems that had been highlighted. That just shows the continued chaos that we are having to put up with as part of the process started by the Secretary of State. Why have some schools been asked to provide condition surveys and others not? That is a simple question.

The Prime Minister says that he wants to change the image of his party and its policies, but the Liberal Democrat fig leaf is barely disguising a return to the nakedly ideological attacks against predominantly Labour-supporting areas. The full extent of the severity of the austerity cuts to be implemented by the coalition Government is only beginning to be realised by the general public. It is a sombre thought that it will take the destruction of buildings of hundreds of schools and colleges across the country to reduce to ashes the claims of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats to stand up for fairness, and with it their electoral fortunes.

The hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) mentioned chaos. As far as the Building Schools for the Future programme is concerned, I very much hope that at some stage there will be an independent inquiry into the conduct of Ministers in the previous Labour Government; the more I hear about the scheme and the conduct of Labour Ministers, the more scandalous it all becomes.

A project that was originally supposed to cost £45 billion ended up costing £55 billion. The previous Government spent £10 million simply setting up the procurement vehicle for Building Schools for the Future before a single brick had been laid. One person received £1.35 million in consultancy fees. It is difficult to see how that sum can possibly be justified. A single individual in this project received more than £1 million.

The hon. Gentleman who has just intervened was a Minister of the Crown in the last Government. Is he asserting from the Front Bench that no individual received more than £1 million in consultancy fees from this project? Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?

So the hon. Gentleman is inferring that the Secretary of State, in putting that forward on the advice of officials, was misleading the House?

What I am saying is what the Secretary of State asserted in the main Chamber last week. The hon. Gentleman is essentially asserting that the Secretary of State misled the House. Is that what he is saying?

I am suggesting that not one single individual received the amount of money that the hon. Gentleman alludes to. It was a consultancy firm that received that money, following a wide range of different projects relating to BSF. It was not a single individual.

This is an important point. The hon. Gentleman is implying that the Secretary of State misled the House last week when he said very clearly, in terms, that an individual had received more than £1 million. I am confident that the Secretary of State would not have misled the House, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Let me finish this point.

That is all the more reason why we need an independent inquiry into the BSF programme and the chaos in which the previous Government left it.

Let me finish my next points.

The money that went in consultancy fees could have gone into the front line. The BSF scheme took no account of the fact that, in many parts of the country, there is a real need for new school building as a result of the growing population. That is particularly true for primary schools, but the BSF project simply did not cover primary schools at all.

In the run-up to the general election, the previous Government sought to pretend that there was more money in the BSF programme, but they did so on the basis of hoping that they would get funds from the Treasury through the use of end-of-year flexibility of capital. It is becoming apparent, as the permanent secretary to the Department for Education has now made clear, that that was never properly cleared with the Treasury by the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), then Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. The Treasury has said clearly that the right hon. Gentleman was playing fast and loose with that particular capital stream. The Treasury has made clear its opposition.

I would very much welcome an inquiry into what went wrong with the Building Schools for the Future programme and Partnerships for Schools under the previous Government. It is very unreasonable to attach any culpability to new Ministers for a grim situation that they clearly inherited and are having to deal with.

Banbury school, a large comprehensive in my constituency, was put into the Building Schools for the Future programme. Its principal has written to the Secretary of State and she has made her comments clear in local newspapers. I should like to share with hon. Members what she said in her letter to the Secretary of State:

“I wanted to write to support your decision to stop the vast majority of BSF projects currently under way, and for the reasons that you outlined. Whilst Banbury School was one of the last schools to be included in the BSF programme, nevertheless, the huge bureaucratic hurdles and ridiculous amount of wasted time in meetings with advisors and consultants, etc, means there could never be value for money for the investment…On an immediate positive note, both myself and our Senior Vice Principal now have days released from former BSF meetings, where we can spend time looking directly at our school, the needs of our youngsters and how we can support further improvement in standards.”

Even the schools in the BSF programme thought that it was a bureaucratic nightmare.

In 2009, North Tyneside elected a Conservative mayor with a Conservative cabinet, and one of the first things that they did was to review the BSF programme because they were concerned about bureaucracy, consultants and value for money. Is the hon. Gentleman surprised that they confirmed that they would continue with the programme in my constituency without any change whatever?

The hon. Gentleman can make his points—[Interruption.] No, the hon. Gentleman can make his points about his constituency because I am not in a position to cross-examine or test the evidence. What I am giving hon. Members is the primary advice—the primary evidence—of a principal in my constituency. Let me repeat what that principal said:

“bureaucratic hurdles and ridiculous amount of wasted time in meetings with advisors and consultants…means there could never be value for money for the investment.”

With all due respect to the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr Campbell), I am content to take the advice of the principal of Banbury school on this matter.

The hon. Gentleman was in a position to assert that a single individual received £1.35 million. He has been asked to name that individual. It appears from his comments that he was simply parroting what the Secretary of State said in the House. If the hon. Gentleman cannot name that individual, will he withdraw that accusation today?

The position of the Opposition on this issue is pathetic. They come to this Chamber with synthetic anger, having got the country and schools up and down the country into a real position of difficulty, and they then have the audacity to suggest—[Interruption.] No, they then have the audacity to suggest that the Secretary of State was misleading the House. That is what the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) has been saying.

I want to make it very clear to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) that I will trust my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education implicitly on this, because I do not believe that he would have misled the House on this matter. If that is the best point that the hon. Gentleman can make to defend the previous Government’s being so incompetent that they gave more than £1 million to an individual consultant, it is a very sad situation.

The Secretary of State has made it clear that the present Government intend to continue to invest in school capital projects, whether they involve primary or secondary schools, either to ensure that the most dilapidated schools are repaired as quickly as possible or to provide extra school places where they are needed in areas of growing population. It would be helpful if the Minister gave us all an indication of how the Government intend to approach that. I think that all Government Members recognise that the Building Schools for the Future programme was a travesty of a scheme, but there clearly are schools that require capital investment.

It is clear, for example, that Banbury school, on my patch, still requires capital investment. It serves an area that includes a number of wards with a disadvantaged school population and it has some very mature buildings. I hope that the review that the Secretary of State has set up will make recommendations about capital investment that adhere to the principles of value for money and ensure that capital investment goes to the front line to benefit pupils and schools, not consultants. It would be helpful to have an indication of how the Government intend to invest money in school buildings in the future.

Another important point is that in the Building Schools for the Future programme, the previous Government simply ignored primary schools, although often in our constituencies it is in primary schools where the school population is growing. In counties such as Oxfordshire, there is a double whammy at the moment. The fact that the previous Government left our nation’s finances in such a parlous state, with one pound in every four being spent on interest, means that it is increasingly difficult for county councils, through their schools capital programme, to allocate money for new school building projects.

For example, the Grange school in Banbury, which has a number of temporary classrooms, was hoping that it would be able to receive money from the county council’s own capital programme. That is looking increasingly difficult, simply because there is not the money in the budget.

None of us in any way underestimates the difficult decisions that have to be made by Ministers. I hope that this Minister will not be distracted by the rather synthetic anger from those on the Opposition Benches, because they are the guilty men who have got us into this situation. Rather than coming to this Chamber and chuntering as they are this afternoon, they should be ashamed of themselves for the position in which they left our nation’s schools and our nation’s education.

No debate or contribution on education should pass without our remarking on the fact that 10 years ago, the United Kingdom was fourth in the world for the quality of our science education; we are now 14th. Ten years ago, we were seventh in the world for the quality of our children’s literacy; we are now 17th. Ten years ago, we were eighth in the world for the quality of our children’s mathematics; we are now 24th. So we are talking about every area of academic endeavour over the past 10 years. It is not just the Building Schools for the Future programme that the Labour party left in a shambles, but educational standards as a whole. The present Government will have to sort out all that in the coming years.

Order. We have about half an hour until the winding-up speeches and at least seven or eight hon. Members are trying to catch my eye. I therefore ask Members to be as brief as possible to allow others to speak. For the benefit of new Members, I point out in passing that it is helpful if Members write to Mr Speaker in advance of Westminster Hall debates, indicating their wish to speak. That makes it easier to work out who is to speak next.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) on securing the debate. Like him and like thousands of people in my constituency and millions throughout the country, I was appalled that the very first casualty of the Conservative and Lib Dem policy of savage cuts was investment in our schools. That will be deeply damaging to education and demoralising for students, parents, governors and teachers alike. It is also a big political mistake, because a lot of people who voted Lib Dem or Conservative were certainly not voting for that. In future, when people think of this Government, they will remember that the very first thing Ministers did was take the axe to our schools.

I want to highlight the casualties among schools in my constituency. Iffley Mead is a great special school. Ofsted rated it outstanding for care, guidance and support, and for personal development and well-being, and good in all other respects. The school anticipated the total replacement of outdated buildings, with state-of-the-art teaching areas for special needs, residential accommodation for looked-after children and respite facilities for families in need of additional support. People will find it impossible to understand why they evidently do not figure as part of the big society.

Cheney school, which is a community secondary, has been doing excellent work and has been building on an overall good Ofsted rating. It was looking forward to extensive rebuilding, including the replacement of science labs that were condemned as unsafe last year and which have now been closed. The school has significant numbers of children with special needs, for whom the current buildings, which do not have lifts, are not fit for purpose.

I am enjoying my right hon. Friend’s contribution very much, and it chimes totally with what is happening in Newham, where the John F Kennedy special school is one of 14 projects to have been cancelled by the Conservative party. Is it not ironic that some mainstream schools will be far better resourced than some schools that cater specifically for special needs children, who are the most vulnerable children in our communities?

Indeed. My hon. Friend makes a good point.

Cheney is a good school that serves mixed communities and gets great results. It is a specialist school in languages and leadership, but, to add insult to injury, it has now heard that its £250,000 specialist schools money is also being cut.

We have to ask what message it sends simply to hack support away from schools such as these. I can assure the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who has just spoken, that there is nothing synthetic about the anger of Labour Members or the teachers, students and communities affected. There has been no assessment or evaluation of schools’ particular needs, and programmes are simply cut. Schools are now in limbo: they are told that Building Schools for the Future has been cancelled, yet they do not know what resources, if any, will be available to meet their pressing needs. That is a kick in the teeth for everybody who cares about those schools and who has been working hard for their success. What is the Minister’s message to those schools for the future?

I would also like to press the case of Bayards Hill primary school, which is due for total rebuilding and which had primary capital grant approved a couple of years ago. The catchment area includes one of the most disadvantaged communities in my constituency, and rebuilding would be a huge boost to aspiration and confidence. The school’s plans were all set to go, but they are now at real risk because Oxfordshire county council is looking at making huge cuts in all its programmes. I call on the county council to honour the pledges that have been made and to ensure that the project can go ahead.

This saga of school cuts is a shameful indictment of the priorities of the coalition Government, who are diverting resources from good schools with a proven track record and a clear need for investment to the damaging ideological experiment of their so-called free schools—let us remember that that is where the money is going. If the Government were listening to parents, teachers and governors, they would abandon this damaging policy now and reinstate investment in schools in our communities so that they could deliver the best opportunities and standards. If the Government do not listen, everyone will know in the years to come that the first big message from this coalition Government was that whereas Labour invested in the future of our schools and brought hope and opportunity, the Conservatives and Lib Dems brought cuts and despair. It is a tragedy that children’s education is paying the price for the Government’s monumental misjudgment.

I wish to highlight two key issues: the problems with the Building Schools for the Future scheme and the financial difficulties that the country is in. We have to place any discussion of future programmes for schools in that context.

We know that the financial crisis exists, and that has to be the background for our debate. Bennerley school, which is in my constituency in the east midlands, is one of 151 schools that are up for discussion. It is a possible academy school; indeed, I have spoken to the relevant Minister to put the school’s case on behalf of parents, teachers and our local community. In doing that, however, I am mindful of the context of the financial crisis that the country faces, and any decisions that the Government make will reflect that context.

I want to make three points about why the Building Schools for the Future programme is failing and needs to be looked at. The first relates to bureaucracy, the second to delays and the third to construction and design difficulties.

The Secretary of State summed up the design difficulties when he addressed the House on 5 July:

“One… school was built with corridors so narrow the whole building had to be reconstructed; another had to be closed because the doors could not cope with high winds. One was so badly ventilated that additional mobile air conditioners had to be brought in during the summer, and pupils were sent home.”—[Official Report, 5 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 49.]

Nobody here could possibly agree that that is a sensible use of public money, and such cases raise concerns about some of the design and construction that has taken place.

The Times Educational Supplement accepts that there has been a problem with the scheme. Although it is concerned about part of the programme coming to an end or being paused, it comments:

“BSF suffered from too much bureaucracy and wasted costs in the procurement process, and that should be addressed.”

I agree with it on that point.

Professionals working in the sector also acknowledge and recognise the problems in the scheme. Sir Bruce Liddington commented:

“The current BSF programme is very bureaucratic, slow and unwieldy and I would welcome a review.”

Oasis Community Learning commented:

“We welcome the review of the BSF programme as to learn lessons from past experience in order to find a better way of working for the future can only be a good thing.”

The problems with the scheme are not to be underestimated, and some professionals have acknowledged that. Debbie Jones, chair of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, which has good first-hand knowledge of the issues, says of the programme:

“While the aims were sound, the process left a lot to be desired, embroiling local authorities and head teachers in some torturous bureaucracy and wasteful procedures and did not make the most of the expertise in local authorities in managing capital projects.”

Again, that cannot be right, and we must address such problems.

Finally, if the point has still not been made clear, the Secretary of State set out for the House on 5 July the structure in place under the Building Schools for the Future programme. The process is quite long, and I hope that hon. Members can bear with me. It begins with the Department for Education. There is then the quango, Partnerships for Schools. Then there is another body, 4Ps, and Partnerships UK. Following that, local authorities set up a project governance and delivery structure, including a project board of 10 people, a separate project team of another 10 people and a separate stakeholder board of 20 people. They form the core group supervising the project. Then we have a design champion and a client design adviser—the list goes on and on.

I have said a few times that any programme of reforms must be put in the context of this country’s financial state, and it never ceases to amaze me that Opposition Members appear to sigh, moan and raise their eyebrows when that point is made on the Floor of the House. However, we cannot ignore the position that our country is in. “There is no money.” That was the note that was left; we all know that.

There are difficult decisions facing us. National debt is approaching £1 trillion and there is a budget deficit of £155 billion. The debt interest costs every year are more than the entire schools budget. This country must prioritise. The concern is that if Labour had formed the next Government, they would have turned their attention to jobs and that head or deputy head teachers’ jobs might have been at risk. The coalition Government are looking elsewhere. I urge the Department to consider the merits of each school that is being reviewed, but I accept, on behalf of the school in Erewash that I mentioned, that that consideration must take place in the context of our limited budget.

A responsible Government must make hard decisions. I am in agreement with the steps that the Government are taking to review the BSF project for two reasons: it is responsible to take those steps in the light of the bureaucratic problems with the scheme, and because of the financial mess that has been inherited from the previous Government. On the doorstep during the general election campaign, Erewash constituents would often ask me why, since they must balance their household budgets, the Government cannot do the same. They have a point.

The new Government have real will and a bold, reforming programme for education: the academies programme, free schools and getting to grips straight away with the bureaucratic problems of Building Schools for the Future. Those are positive ways to start, because we need to set teachers and schools free and support them in making choices so that they can make the best decisions for their pupils and the future. The time for writing blank cheques is over. I support the Government in prioritising good teaching and sensibly-afforded programmes for building in schools.

Thank you, Mr. Gray; you did okay.

I start by declaring an interest: two projects in my constituency have been scrapped and one hangs in the balance. The two that have been scrapped are the La Retraite and Bishop Thomas Grant secondary schools projects, and the one in the balance is for Dunraven school.

I have lived in my constituency all my life. I love my area and think that our young people are fantastic—they have drive and talent and want to succeed. I do not buy into the view that is often promulgated in the media that our young people are a problem. To answer the point made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about so-called synthetic anger, that is where my anger comes from: there is nothing synthetic about it. I want to provide young people in my constituency with a platform from which to succeed. That is why I feel emotional about the topic, and if the hon. Gentleman does not get that, I am not sure he will get anything.

I will make some progress, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, and perhaps take interventions a bit later.

Having declared my interest, I want to discuss the manner in which the BSF cuts were announced. I welcome the Secretary of State’s apology, but that does not excuse the shabby, dysfunctional way in which he made the announcement on 5 July. One of the problems was that he came to the Chamber almost as if he were attending an Oxford Union debating society-type event. He made the announcement in a way that seemed to show no recognition or appreciation of the gravity of what he was saying, or its effect on communities such as mine. As for the content, it included massively sweeping statements about the BSF project, some of which we have heard again this afternoon. We were told, at column 49 of Hansard, that it was “dysfunctional” and “did not guarantee quality”. It was portrayed as a wasteful programme, delivering second-rate buildings and facilities or, as I think the Secretary of State put it at column 48 on the same occasion, “botched construction projects”. I do not think that any Labour Members would say that the BSF programme was perfect, or that every aspect of it operated perfectly, or that it was 100% efficient; however, big and sweeping statements have been made, and I want to know—I will be grateful if the Minister elaborates—where the overall evidence is to support those statements.

A National Audit Office report on the BSF programme was produced last year. Although it noted that initial timings and budgets were too optimistic, it found that BSF was delivering school buildings more cheaply than academies and other school building programmes, and it was making it easier for local authorities to use their capital funding strategically. The hon. Member for Banbury put a premium on what school principals say about the project, and I would not disagree with taking note of what school heads and principals say about it. PricewaterhouseCoopers published an evaluation of BSF in February in which more than four fifths of head teachers agreed that the programme would contribute to educational transformation in their schools; three quarters agreed that it had more potential to deliver educational transformation than previous capital investment programmes; and all the head teachers surveyed agreed that it delivered a more stimulating environment and tackled fundamental design issues in schools. That is the overall evidence.

There are examples in my constituency of the BSF programme being very effective and highly successful. They undermine and contradict the overall view put forward by the Government and the Secretary of State. One example is Elm Court school, a special school in the Brixton area. An old Victorian building was transformed into a modern learning space, with fantastic new facilities including a theatre, a drama space and multi-use games and sports areas. The young people love it. Again, I ask for the evidence for what the Government say.

The lack of evidence calls into question the coalition’s motives for the announcement that they have made. They have said that the money being taken from the programme is not being diverted into free schools, but do they not accept that it adds insult to injury when the parents and teachers in my constituency, whose schools are affected by the cuts, see all that money being ploughed into the Secretary of State’s pet project, the free school model? The hon. Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) mentioned the structural deficit, which tends to come up every time we talk about anything relating to resource. [Hon. Members: “ Of course it does.”] Okay, I accept that, but one of the ways of dealing with the deficit is to bring about growth. That is ultimately the best way to eradicate the deficit, in many respects. Why take investment away from the people to whom we are looking for the growth of the economy in the future? It does not make sense to me.

Above all, although I accept that BSF may not operate perfectly—the hon. Member for Erewash outlined the process—why not review and reform the process? Why sweep away an entire programme? I do not know whether there are any Liberal Democrat Members in the Chamber, but I cannot believe that they are going along with what is happening.

Does the hon. Gentleman realise that the Government are reviewing what is currently in the programme? If he accepts that the programme was not perfect, he should welcome a review to ensure that the capital funding that is being provided is spent in the right schools.

I argue that we need to wait until after the review, instead of scrapping all the ongoing projects. I shall talk about what doing that will mean for schools in my area, and I am sure that the same effects will be felt in other constituencies.

I mentioned the Liberal Democrats because, for the best part of two years, they have been spending literally hundreds of thousands of pounds in my constituency flowering their leaflets with their promises of the best start for children and pledging a boost for schools. There was recently a by-election in the Tulse Hill ward—this was after the announcement— and the literature promised:

“We will provide a fair start to all children by giving schools the extra money they need”.

Well, gosh. I would say they have forfeited any right to claim to speak for my community after the announcement that has been made.

The bottom line is this: we need the money. We need the projects to go ahead, and not only because school buildings in my area need reforming and updating. We have plenty of statistics to show that where we have invested in infrastructure using the BSF programme, it has massively increased the educational attainment of pupils in Lambeth, the London borough in which my constituency is located. School places are an issue there and the impact of the decision will be massive.

Just before coming to the debate, I received a copy of a letter that Susan Powell, the head teacher at La Retraite school, had just sent to the Secretary of State about the significance of the scrapping of the BSF project at her school. She explains how, in anticipation of receiving the BSF moneys, her school took on site three mobile classrooms:

“The reason for these mobile classrooms was that, two years ago, we agreed with the local authority to take on extra pupils and to extend the intake to 5 forms of entry. We agreed to do this as part of the arrangements for BSF; it was part of our bid. We believe that we have a moral right to new buildings to house the extra pupils, which we only took on in return for this promise. You may not know that pupil places are at a premium in Lambeth which is, as an authority, extremely short of places.”

Many hours, weeks and months of planning have gone into projects in my community that have been scrapped. I appeal to the Minister not only to approve the project at Dunraven school, which is in the balance, but to reverse the decision on the La Retraite and Bishop Thomas Grant schools. We are talking about our children’s future, and the coalition needs to wake up and come to its senses.

As I have already mentioned, last week the Secretary of State came and apologised to the House, saying that:

“when mistakes are made, we apologise and we take responsibility.”—[Official Report, 12 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 641.]

In 1997, the Labour party inherited a legacy of chronic underinvestment from successive Conservative Governments. That is a fact, and the new Administration need to learn the lessons of the past. I am more interested in that than in any apology.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna), who made some extremely good points, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) on having procured the debate. He knows how much I respect his views, but he weakened his case with needless party political posturing, especially with his reference to the burden of the changed scheme falling particularly on Labour-held constituencies. That is not the case, as I am about to explain.

I thank the Minister for two things. First, the Secretary of State has promised that I may visit him to talk about this subject—I shall return to that in a moment. Secondly, the Minister will be aware that a promise has also been made that either the Secretary of State or a Minister will visit my Newark constituency. I am extremely grateful, and I await both dates with great interest. My point is that, in just a few weeks, I have received two promises from this Government that I got absolutely nowhere near receiving from the previous Government.

The Minister and all Members present will know that in 2001, very few seats changed hands from the Labour party to the Conservative party. Newark was one of those that did. I campaigned hard upon the fact that the disgraceful state of the schools in my constituency would be addressed, and with urgency. To give credit where credit is due, two outstanding schools have been refurbished in the west and north parts of my constituency: one in Tuxford, of which I am a governor, and one in Southwell. They are both excellent schools and look grand, they really do. However, the four secondary schools—now three—in the centre of Newark remained in a dreadful state. I campaigned again in 2005 on the principal point that something would be done about those schools. I constantly asked Labour Ministers for meetings. The requests were refused. I constantly asked Labour Ministers to visit the constituency. That was refused. Views constantly changed, amounts of money changed and there was obfuscation about which particular wave of the Building Schools for the Future programme my schools would be in. I never knew. When the education authority came under Conservative control, it was similarly frustrated by a process that left it flabbergasted by its incompetence.

Enough. Enough of complaining about the past. The hon. Member for Streatham made the point that this debate is about the future. It is about our children and delivering the education that they need. I am not interested in knowing what has gone before. I am not interested in the incompetence. I am interested in why The Grove school in Newark has to cease teaching when there is a heavy fall of rain and the children have to hold buckets under the roof. I am interested to know why Magnus school, which is just coming out of special measures, has nothing to look forward to. I am interested to know why the Orchard special needs school similarly has no idea what its future will be. Whatever the faults of the past, I am interested to know what the future is for these three schools on four sites—covering all the secondary schooling in the centre of my constituency—which have had their projects cancelled without a glimmer of hope being given to them.

We are told, “You can teach in a tent,” and I am sure that that is possible. The staff in Newark are first class, but the grave difficulty is recruiting new staff to a site that is a shambles. The new schools that I have are recruiting staff and pupils easily. The difficulty in Newark, which is right on the border between Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire, is that so many of my children are drifting away over the border into Lincolnshire to be educated there.

My message is very simple: one does not take away a lollipop without promising a child a visit to the zoo the next weekend, or something similar. It is basic psychology. All sorts of members of staff from The Grove, Orchard and Magnus schools have expressed their disappointment and horror and have asked why schools in north Lincolnshire and Sheffield, for example, are totally unaffected while all Nottinghamshire schools are affected. The Grove school has been described by the local authority as having the worst buildings in Nottinghamshire, although I think that it has strong competition from Toot Hill, in Bingham, which is also in my constituency. What is the future for those schools?

The Building Schools for the Future programme was deeply flawed. I had nothing from it but frustration, anger and obfuscation, and the performance of those who were trying to administer it was simply bathetic—not pathetic. I ask the Minister please to give me some dates for the visits and for when I can see the Secretary of State, and to let me say something to my head teachers that gives us some hope that the schools’ capital projects will help Newark and that I can deliver on the promises that I made in 2001, 2005 and 2010, which took Newark out of the hands of Labour and delivered it to the Conservative party with a 16,000 majority.

I believe that the Building Schools for the Future programme is a classic example of what we have seen over the past 13 years of Labour: a project that was supposed to cost £45 billion and ended up being costed at £55 billion. Bureaucracy was the absolute cornerstone. As my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Jessica Lee) so graphically described, there were nine stages of preparation with multiple sub-stages, and many councils that entered the process six years ago only now have building work starting.

Labour, of course, set up a quango to deliver the project: Partnerships for Schools. I understand that running the quango cost the taxpayer £24.4 million last year and that the CEO earns about £215,000 a year—very nice work if one can get it. Finally, Labour achieved completion of works on only 97 secondary schools in seven years. That is absolutely typical of the endlessly aspirational but completely failing projects in so many areas. If that were not enough, the issue that I wish to raise is even more fundamental.

The hon. Lady has cited one example. Can she provide us with detailed evidence suggesting how widespread that alleged dysfunctionality was overall?

The hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me. I do not have time to go into the details, but I will happily speak to him after the debate.

None of south Northamptonshire’s six secondary schools had any prospect of a look-in on the programme before 2015. My constituency has one school in special measures and another that has just come out. The buildings are appalling, presumably because attainment is reasonable. Like many partly rural constituencies, mine has great areas of deprivation. That is simply not fair. I urge the Minister to ensure that our plans provide fairness across the country.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) on securing this timely and hugely important debate. He has campaigned tenaciously on this issue on behalf of the schools in his constituency and I applaud him for it.

This has been an energetic and passionate debate, and rightly so. Education fires up people’s passions. Many hon. Members from various parties were drawn into politics because they want to work to give all our children and young people the best possible start—an aim with which I think we all agree. However, the whole House should also agree that cutting Building Schools for the Future so soon after the birth of the coalition Government is a shameful and shambolic example of ministerial arrogance and incompetence.

Time and time again in this debate, we have heard of the anger in hon. Members’ constituencies—real anger, not synthetic—about the decision to scrap school buildings. My hon. Friend the Member for Halton, my right hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) have made excellent speeches. I also highlight the excellent contribution made by the hon. Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer), who illustrated the cross-party anger about the matter. The rally in London on Monday organised by the teaching unions and my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Education showed the depth of anger not just in the House, but across the country among parents, young people, teachers, school governors and local authorities.

We have heard that the manner in which the decision was made showed breathtaking incompetence and arrogance. It was incompetent because the Secretary of State, whom I like very much and think is an incredibly intelligent man, was not on top of his brief. It was a debacle because information was not provided to hon. Members when the Secretary of State made his statement to the House on 5 July. It was a shambles because error after error appeared in the cancellation lists. I think that we are currently on our fifth or sixth list, but I might be a bit behind the curve.

What matters more than any of that is the fact that 735 schools will now not be refurbished or rebuilt as planned. It is confusing. Dyke House school in my constituency was due for financial closure this Friday. It has decanted all its students to another site ahead of the two-year building programme. The head teacher has invested another £400,000 to facilitate the build, and the local authority has invested £3 million to ensure that it takes place. There has been no word whatever about whether the project can proceed. I asked a named day question about Dyke House school on 6 July, to be answered on 12 July. Almost two weeks after that answer was due to be provided, I have not yet got a response from the Department. I had the privilege to serve as a Minister in the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and I found it an incredible honour to work with the most passionate, energetic and professional officials anywhere in Whitehall. This is not the officials’ fault; it is a symptom and a sign of ministerial dysfunction and incompetence, and the ministerial team should be ashamed of themselves.

My hon. Friend is identifying some of the perhaps unintended consequences. It is not just that schools are being left with crumbling buildings; local authorities’ plans for redeveloping schools have also been thrown into chaos, causing not only financial loss but the sort of loss that my hon. Friend is discussing. In some local authorities, including mine, academies have had a full modernisation programme but other schools have been left to rot, resulting in a two-tier system. It is a complete shambles.

I agree absolutely. At the moment, we are debating the Academies Bill on the Floor of the House; I think that we are about to suspend for a Division on it. The Academies Bill will set up a two-tier system of education as well.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

If only that were still the case, Mr Gray, some school buildings might still be being refurbished and rebuilt.

Before the Division, we were discussing the arrogance and incompetence of the current ministerial team. When the Secretary of State announced his decision, he committed the cardinal sin of failing to ask the right questions. That was arrogant, because he thought that there was no need to consult or ask whether his information was correct and accurate. That is an example of top-down government—the belief that the Minister in Whitehall knows best and that there is no need to check data or facts with schools, trade unions or local authorities.

Building Schools for the Future was not perfect; I have not suggested that and nor has any other hon. Member who has contributed to this debate. However, it was ambitious in its scope, and that was something that we had not seen in this country for the best part of a century. It represented nothing less than a 15-year programme to refurbish or replace every single secondary school in England.

The hon. Gentleman must forgive me, but I have only four minutes left. In cancelling BSF, the Secretary of State told the House that rising standards in schools are not based on new or improved school buildings.

On the point about rising standards, there was some suggestion that standards had not risen under Labour, yet in Halton they have risen significantly in all secondary schools. In fact, only today Bankfield school, my old school, has been rated as outstanding by Ofsted.

I congratulate Bankfield school on that achievement. Hartlepool local education authority was the fastest-improving education authority in the past 10 years, with regard to rising economic standards, and we have just lost out on £104 million of BSF funding. That could have been the last piece in the jigsaw that would allow our young people in Hartlepool, Halton and elsewhere to meet their potential and thrive.

The Labour Government were allowing teachers, who are professional and well respected, to use their professionalism to inspire and impart knowledge. The CBI produced an interesting report last year that found that exam results in BSF schools improved at more than four times the rate of other schools. It also found that in those schools 30% of pupils felt safer, that bullying and vandalism had decreased by 23% and 51% respectively and that 13% more pupils said that they intended to stay on for the sixth form. Therefore, there is a close relationship between rising standards and inspiring buildings.

To allow Britain to compete in the modern globalised economy, surely we need world-class facilities. If we are to lead the world in science in the 21st century, surely we need state-of-the-art science labs to help motivate and inspire the next generation of scientists. If we are to be at the cutting edge of climate change mitigation, surely a good start would be to demonstrate to pupils, from the youngest possible age, that green buildings can help protect the environment. On a slightly more mundane level, surely it is right that this country, which is still the world’s fifth largest economy—despite the comments of Government Members who want to run down our economic performance—should be able to provide school buildings that do not leak.

The Minister must answer several questions that the Secretary of State seems pathologically incapable of answering. If the Minister does not have time to answer them, I would appreciate it if he wrote to me, and to the Members who have participated in the debate, with specific answers.

Did the Secretary of State at any point receive written or oral advice from his officials or from Partnership for Schools urging him not to publish a list of schools until after he had consulted local authorities to ensure that his criteria were sound and his facts right? Was he advised of the risk of legal challenge from private building contractors? What contingency has his Department put in place for possible judicial reviews from schools, local authorities and private contractors? Will the Minister admit that the decision was not about inefficiency, cumbersome bureaucracy or insufficient funds, but was considered necessary by the Secretary of State to free up money for his dogmatic and ideological free market experiment in schools?

When the Secretary of State announced the cuts to BSF to the House, he stated:

“Action is urgently needed today because the whole of my predecessor’s Department’s spending plans were based on unsustainable assumptions and led to unfunded promises.”—[Official Report, 5 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 50.]

That is a serious allegation about the financial controls and the accountancy and budgetary procedures at the Department for Children, Schools and Families. It alleges that the permanent secretary, as accounting officer, allowed the then Secretary of State to make uncosted promises for short-term political gain.

However, the permanent secretary has stated in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls):

“During your time as Secretary of State, I can confirm that the Department for Children, Schools and Families worked closely with Her Majesty’s Treasury to ensure that appropriate cover was provided for spending decisions. Decisions on capital expenditure, including those relating to Building Schools for the Future, were subject to Treasury clearance where appropriate...If any actions on this or any matter were in breach of the requirements of propriety or regularity, I would have sought a ministerial direction. I can confirm that I made no such requests during your time as Secretary of State.”

Will the Minister concede that there were no unfunded promises in the BSF programme and that all schemes went through appropriate procedures of appraisal at both the Department and the Treasury? Will he now apologise for the scurrilous allegations about my right hon. Friend’s conduct?

In conclusion, the Secretary of State’s decision on Building Schools for the Future has cost him a lot; in the space of an afternoon, his reputation—hard won over many years—was reduced to tatters. More importantly, the decision has cost the private sector the potential for recovery and local authorities millions of pounds in opportunity costs and sunk spending. Even more importantly, by denying hundreds of thousands of children and young people the opportunity to be taught in world-class facilities of outstanding design, that decision will be to the cost of the educational potential, and hence the social and economic progress, of this country for many decades to come.

I am sure that we are all glad that the former Minister has got that off his chest, but he has not left me much time in which to answer the real questions that hon. Members have asked. This is the first time that I have served under your chairmanship, Mr Gray, and it is a pleasure. I welcome the large number of Members who have sought to participate in the debate. That demonstrates the interest in this matter, although it is notable that there are twice as many Conservative Members present as there are Labour Members.

Conservative Members have shown great interest in the debate, while Labour Members who have jumped up and down cannot be bothered to come here in the numbers we were promised.

I will not give way.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Halton (Derek Twigg) on securing this interesting debate. I certainly recognise his passion for the subject and for the schools in his constituency. I also recognise the big impact that the Building Schools for the Future changes have had on his constituency and the good progress that those schools have made. He acknowledged that the BSF system was certainly not perfect, but he did not state what the effect on BSF would have been in the event of the re-election of a Labour Government committed to axing 50% from capital spending. The cuts have not just come about—

I will not give way because I want to answer the specific questions that the hon. Gentleman has asked. I can either take more interventions and not answer his questions, or I can answer his questions. The choice is his.

I will try to answer the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

The right hon. Member for Oxford East (Mr Smith) said in his speech that the coalition Government’s first cut was to the BSF budget, but it would have been the same had the Labour Government been re-elected because the money was never there for the scheme, despite all their vague promises.

Many hon. Members from both sides of the House have spoken passionately about the effects of the BSF changes in their constituencies. My hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Patrick Mercer) has built a reputation for standing up for the schools in his constituency since his election in 2001, and I will certainly nudge my colleagues about the visits to his constituency and to the Department that he was promised. I also acknowledge the passion with which the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) spoke, particularly on his work in the interests of the young people in his constituency. I will answer three of the specific questions from the hon. Member for Halton, but if I miss any other hon. Members’ questions I will be happy to write to them if they nudge me afterwards.

First, the hon. Member for Halton asked about the review. It is led by Sebastian James, the director of DSG International, and is due to be completed by the end of the calendar year, with interim advice to be produced in September, ahead of the comprehensive spending review. Secondly, he asked about the impact on ICT funding. Basically, those decisions will be taken along with those on schools still under consideration and on the future of the scheme, which is being decided under the James review. Such considerations will be part of that review.

Thirdly, the hon. Gentleman made a point about playing fields. The review will include consideration of all requirements on schools, including their buildings and land. However, there is simply no intention to get rid of playing field regulations. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the review will support the coalition aim to protect such playing fields.

I also want to respond to the specific point made by the former Minister, the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), about the consultant paid £1.35 million. The National Audit Office’s BSF report of 2009 said clearly, on page 37, in section 4.8, that the £1.35 million was paid to the firm KPMG for the financial services of “one individual” exclusively in that period. The hon. Gentleman knew that—[Interruption.] If he did not know that, he had not done his homework. He was a Minister in the Department at the time.

Let me restate the Government’s absolute commitment to raising standards of education in this country, an ambition shared by all hon. Members and certainly those in the Chamber today. From day one, we have been totally committed to raising educational standards and to tackling head-on some of the big problems bequeathed to us by the former Government.

The achievement gap between private and state schools has grown over the past 13 years. Just as painfully, standards have declined to the point at which 42% of pupils eligible for free school meals are not achieving a single GCSE above grade D. Only a quarter of GCSE students are achieving five or more GCSEs including English, maths, science and a foreign language. We are 24th in the league table for maths, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned.

The hon. Member for Halton claimed that all the changes to BSF are ideologically driven. That is true: the Government are ideologically ambitious to raise the quality of education for every child and to raise the standard of education in every school. The hon. Gentleman also said that the changes were the biggest attack against Labour-supporting areas. What about the attack on the aspirations of the constituents in those areas, building up their hopes of new school buildings when there was never any prospect of a re-elected Labour Government delivering them? That is the attack, and it was misleading, dishonest, opportunistic and immoral. Yet now Labour Members cry foul about how things are happening.

In contrast, we have committed to doubling the number of highly accomplished graduates teaching in our schools, to make sure that every child—especially the poorest—has access to excellent teaching.

I understand the grave disappointments of hon. Members about the BSF programme. I also understand the disappointment of the affected heads, teachers and pupils in the constituencies of the hon. Member for Halton and others who have spoken. It would have been wonderful to have inherited a decent financial legacy so that we could carry on with an efficient building programme to renew all our schools.

The hon. Member for Streatham said that abandoning the BSF programme made no sense. However, what does not make any sense is to leave our Government with a Budget deficit of £155 billion and a public sector net debt of £926.9 billion, or 63.9% of GDP. That is what does not make sense, and that is what is unfair to the children, teachers and parents who are now being let down by a plan that would never have been delivered in practice. It also discriminated against many schools in the later phases. They had no prospect of the money, because it had been lavished disproportionately—wasted—on the earlier schools. That is the truth of the matter.

It is vital to repeat the fact that, contrary to some of the wild reports, the BSF changes do not mean that school buildings and capital works will suddenly be stopped dead in their tracks. We remain committed to investing in the schools estate, to ensure that pupils are educated in buildings of a good standard, where they feel safe, comfortable and ready to learn. However, we must acknowledge that, as the Chancellor made clear in his Budget last month, we are living in a difficult fiscal climate and one in which £1 of every £4 we spend is borrowed. Increasingly, professionals across all public services are being asked to do more with less.

BSF was the flagship programme of the previous Government. Where it has delivered, it has seen some impressive new buildings, but at a huge cost—rebuilding a school under BSF is three times more expensive than a commercial building and twice as expensive as building a school in Ireland.