House of Commons
Monday 11 July 2011
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
The Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning—who is here with us in spirit, if not in body today—committed during an Education Bill debate to hold a summit for interested parties to focus on issues of transition to the new arrangements for young people’s careers guidance. That summit is to take place this Friday. Following the event, we will set out key milestones for the transition period up to September 2012 to support local authorities’ transition planning. We will also look to share examples of the models being developed at the local level, and the material will be made available on the Local Government Association’s communities of practice website.
We know that this Government are fond of pauses, but it is eight months since the Minister announced the end of Connexions and the start of the new all-age career service. In the meantime, parents and practitioners have been left with no help to support young people in assessing their options or planning for their futures, so will Casper the Ghost Minister take this opportunity to provide detailed guidance, eight months after it was promised, on how the transitional arrangements and the new service will work?
I am impressed by the hon. Lady’s affection for Connexions, which does not exist in Scotland anyway. She will have just four more days to wait until after the summit that was promised and discussed in Committee, when my hon. Friend the Minister will lay out our plans in detail, with plenty of time for the transitions to come into effect.
There is an odd connection, as the hon. Gentleman says. Last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out the plans for raising the threshold, which is surely a much more realistic and aspirational target than the rather poor compromise that we have had up to now.
I am not surprised that the Minister in charge of the careers service does not want to show his face in this place—it has not done his own career any good—but I am pleased that our man in Havana is with us today. This whole episode has been handled absolutely shambolically, but will the Minister now at least confirm, even at this late stage, that despite the lack of a transition plan eight months on from the announcement, face-to-face quality advice and guidance from a careers professional will be provided to all children, and that no one will be left out?
As a question, that was close, but no cigar. However, just last week the hon. Gentleman was referring to my hon. Friend the Minister as his friend, and he will appreciate more than many the immense amount of work that he has put in to ensure that the arrangements are absolutely right. Let us remember that it was the hon. Gentleman’s former friend, the right hon. Alan Milburn, who panned the former Connexions service as being patchy and inefficient. We want to ensure that we do not make those sorts of mistakes and that we get it right for our many young people in future.
We have had a large number of representations about the potential effect of the English baccalaureate on religious education in schools. We are carrying out our own work to assess the extent of the changes that schools are making from next year, and we shall continue to monitor the take-up of all subjects and the associated staffing implications. Religious education remains a vital subject that it is compulsory for all schools to teach through to the age of 16.
I have been lobbying the Government on this issue for some months now. The schools Minister has repeatedly asked for evidence to back up claims that excluding RE from the E-bac will have a negative impact on take-up and teaching provision. Last week, a report by the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education, based on evidence from half of all state schools in England, showed that a quarter of schools are not providing statutory RE for 14 to 16-year-olds. Will the Minister address the issue, now that we have the proof?
The NATRE study cited by my hon. Friend suggests that around one in six schools anticipate a drop in religious studies entries at GCSE related to the E-bac, but it is not clear what overall effect that might have on take-up. Well over half of schools specifically indicated in that survey that there would not be a drop in GCSE entries in RS; indeed, a proportion said that there would be an increase in entries. That bears out the fact that the English baccalaureate does not prevent any school from offering RS GCSEs, and RE remains a statutory part of the curriculum.
I do not know whether you are a fan of films of the ‘80s, Mr Speaker, but you might remember one called “Back to the Future”. It starred a man called Michael who was trapped in the 1950s—an echo, perhaps, of someone else in modern politics. Ministers are hopelessly stuck in the past: they drop work experience at key stage 4 and promote Latin above engineering, ICT and RE, yet we know religious education helps young people understand the world today. Ministers tell us that the E-bac is what parents and students want, so will the Minister tell us what percentage of year 9 students who have recently chosen their GCSE options have opted for the English bac?
We do not collect the figure centrally. We will see the effect of the English baccalaureate when we see the GCSE results this year, next year and the year after that. If the right hon. Gentleman wants a modern curriculum, he should be aware that we need modern languages to be taught in our schools. Under his watch, the numbers entering for GCSE in modern languages plummeted from 79% in the year 2000 to just 43% last year, while the proportion taking geography fell from 44% in 1997 to 27% last year. The range of subjects in the English baccalaureate is mirrored elsewhere in modern emerging economies such as Singapore, France, Japan and Alberta. [Hon. Members: “Alberta?”] In Canada. Those are the most successful education jurisdictions.
It is just not good enough that the Minister does not know about the impact his policies are having on student choices in schools. In my constituency, about 30% of young people are opting for the English bac; what does the Minister have to say to the other 70% who have chosen not to do it? RE teachers, music teachers and art teachers are at risk of redundancy because of the English baccalaureate. No wonder nine faith leaders wrote to The Daily Telegraph this weekend to say that they were
“gravely concerned about the negative impact current Government policies are having on RE in schools”.
Ministers promised freedom, choice and autonomy in education; is it not time that they started living up to those words?
If we were to take advice from the right hon. Gentleman, we would have a cap on aspiration for young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. He should be ashamed of the fact that his Government left this Government a legacy whereby only 8% of pupils on free school meals were even entered for the English baccalaureate subjects, and these are subjects that the Russell group of universities regards as the facilitating subjects that give rise to progression. Only 4% of those pupils actually achieved the results in comparison with 15.6% nationally. The right hon. Gentleman had a cap on aspiration; we want to raise aspiration right across the abilities and backgrounds of young people.
The Government are committed to ensuring that GCSEs and A-levels compare with the best exams in the world, so we will increase the role of higher education in the development of A-levels; we will change the rules on modules and retakes so that GCSE examinations are taken at the end of the course; and we will ensure that proper marks are once more given for spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Does my right hon. Friend recall a study by the Royal Society of Chemistry in 2008—I think he will because he commented on it at the time—showing that 1,300 of the brightest 16-year-olds found great difficulty answering questions taken from the 1960s and ’70s? Does this not prove that standards have dropped? Is there any evidence that the steps my right hon. Friend is taking will make a real difference so that we can halt the catastrophic decline in the standard of A-levels?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right to say that the Royal Society of Chemistry and other learned bodies have pointed out that some examinations our young people sit today simply do not compare with the best in the world. I have asked the Office of the Qualifications and Examinations Regulator to ensure that the tests that our children sit to prepare them for the 21st century are every bit as rigorous as those in the other countries that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) mentioned, which are currently outpacing us in educational achievement.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern, which is why Ofqual has ensured that there will be an inquiry into the mistakes made by the awarding bodies. This is not the first year, and it might not be the last, in which awarding bodies made mistakes in examinations, but it is a cause of heartbreak for every family affected. We inherited an examination system from the previous Government that needed reform. That is why we are changing both the way Ofqual operates and the way in which awarding bodies are held to account.
“Out of Mind, Out of Sight”
The CEOP thematic assessment has been widely welcomed as an important contribution to the tackling of child sexual exploitation. As available data are limited, the report does not provide a complete picture of this horrific abuse, but it does help us to understand much better the scale, nature and complexity of the issues that we are facing. As the hon. Lady knows, the Government are working with national and local partners to develop a comprehensive action plan, which we will publish this autumn.
The CEOP report says that sexually exploited children frequently go missing or run away, but, the Children’s Society report “Make Runaways Safe”, which was published today, says that two thirds of runaway children are not reported missing. One of its most disturbing findings is that most runaway children do not seek help because they do not feel that there is anyone whom they can trust. When drawing up his action plan, will the Minister take full account of the findings of both those reports?
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady again for the immense amount of work that she has done. She and I recently took part in a debate on the subject in Westminster Hall. She is right to draw attention to the strong link between runaway children and sexual exploitation, and that will certainly feature in the action plan we are drawing up. The Children’s Society report, which was published today, makes even more harrowing reading and reminds us of the urgency of the task. According to the report, children as young as eight are subjected to sexual exploitation, which is completely unacceptable.
5. On how many days annually on average schools were closed owing to strike action between (a) 1979 and 1997 and (b) 1997 and 2010; and what assessment he has made of the likely trends in days lost to such action in the next four years. (64601)
My Department published detailed information on school closures associated with the industrial action on 30 June. The Department has not collected such detailed figures in the past, so we do not have comprehensive figures for the days lost between 1979 and 2010, and it is not possible to predict the number of days on which schools might close in the event of future industrial action.
It is clear from figures available to Labour Members that more strike days were taken under the previous Conservative Government than under the more recent Labour Government. Is that because a Tory-led Government are incapable of sitting around a table and negotiating with teachers, or does the Secretary of State have an alternative explanation?
I agree with the hon. Lady that negotiation is important. That is why I look forward to talking to representatives of the trade unions later this afternoon and why I value the discussions that we have with them, not just about pensions but about every issue.
In all the pension negotiations that have led to the recent strikes, the Secretary of State seems to have been a bit of a non-entity. Has he made any representations to his Cabinet Office and Treasury colleagues in support of the teachers’ case on pensions, or has he decided simply to wash his hands of their concerns?
I note that the hon. Gentleman has promoted me from Marty McFly to Pontius Pilate in just 30 seconds. Far from washing my hands, however, I have been actively intervening to ensure that, across Government, we make certain that pensions for valued public sector workers such as teachers are protected, while at the same time being fair to all taxpayers and reflecting the reforms that Lord Hutton, in his excellent report, suggested we pursue.
I discuss youth services regularly with a wide range of stakeholders, particularly young people. The Government acknowledge the value of year-round services when they are of high quality, but too many are of variable quality, insufficiently targeted on those most in need, and not open to a range of providers. Through the early intervention grant we are encouraging local authorities to improve services by making better use of the voluntary sector, increasing the involvement of local businesses, and ensuring that disadvantaged young people receive early help.
On 4 May, the Minister told the Select Committee on Education that he was concerned about the “bang for your buck” in the provision of universal youth services. The Committee’s report on youth services shows that the national citizen service, as currently constructed, does not provide value for money. What action is the Minister taking to prevent himself from being hauled before the Public Accounts Committee for wasting valuable resources that should go to our young people?
I noticed that the term “value for money” tripped rather awkwardly from the hon. Lady’s lips. The Select Committee report was about services beyond the school day for young people aged between 13 and 25, yet the press release focused almost solely on the national citizens service, which is for 16-year-olds. We are running pilots this year. The purpose of pilots is to see how things work, and in this case to ensure we get value for money and the biggest bang for our buck so that as many of our 16-year-olds as possible will benefit from this wonderful scheme in years to come. I hope the hon. Lady will visit one of the schemes in her area.
The Minister rightly pointed out that provision has been different in that the service has been non-statutory. What consideration has he given to the idea of objectives being proposed that it would be hoped commissioners would take up, so that young people across the country would be able to engage with the process and there could be some minimum standards?
I take on board my hon. Friend’s point. Youth service provision is very patchy across the country and needs to be modernised, and some youth services departments do not take on board what local people actually need. Above all, we must ensure that we involve all the relevant sectors and people—the voluntary and business sectors, youth workers and, most importantly, young people themselves, who are often not included in consultations on the services we provide for them. I am determined that under my watch that will be a thing of the past.
The Minister says he thinks value for money is important and stresses the importance of the voluntary sector in providing youth services, but the Select Committee on Education report makes it absolutely clear that voluntary service organisations are already playing a very significant part in youth service provision and tells the Government that they need to acknowledge what is happening on the ground and act now. Will the Minister speak up for our young people and explain what he is going to do about the crisis in youth service provision, with local authorities right across the country making swingeing cuts?
Unlike the previous Government, who rather demonised young people, this Government will speak up for young people wherever we can. That is why the comprehensive youth policy we are putting together will be called “positive for youth.” It will include contributions from the voluntary sector, the business sector, the youth worker sector and young people themselves. Our very successful summit at the QEII centre in March was a springboard for probably the most comprehensive youth policy that any Government will produce. I look forward to the hon. Gentleman reading that report when it comes out in the autumn.
No schools in England are attended entirely by Traveller children.
For the record, the Minister should be advised that Braybrooke primary school in my constituency is populated 100% by Traveller children. It must be the only school in the country where children from the local village do not attend and the entire population is made up of children from local Traveller camps. Will my hon. Friend be kind enough to visit the school to see how we might address this unique situation?
I will, of course, be delighted to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and Braybrooke primary school. The Government are committed to the promotion of community cohesion and to breaking down barriers between different groups in society, and we have committed £201 million within the dedicated schools grant to help schools raise the performance of ethnic minority pupils, including Traveller children.
The careers guidance provisions in clauses 26 and 27 of the Education Bill have been extensively debated and will be subjected to further scrutiny in the House of Lords. A wide range of stakeholders submitted evidence to inform the passage of the Education Bill through Parliament.
Ministers frequently respond to correspondence relating to the delivery of careers guidance. The subject has been raised in discussions with a number of interested parties including representatives from the careers sector, the Association of School and College Leaders and the Association of Colleges.
Careers advice and guidance will have to be provided in schools, but my understanding is that no inspection regime will be in force to ensure they do so. How will we know that schools facing scarcity of resources will provide impartial and high-quality advice?
The most important way we will discover how well the new system will work is not through measuring inputs, but through measuring outcomes. Ofsted will therefore have a role in looking at the destinations of young people leaving school, and that will be part of the performance measures we are currently discussing, which will be in place for 2012.
It is obvious from information around the country that the young people who most need face-to-face careers guidance are those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, where they do not receive that support at home. As Ministers consider how to deal with the Education Bill in the Lords and this guidance, will they reflect on the fact that specific advice that would lead to face-to-face careers guidance would be hugely valued, particularly in the most disadvantaged schools and areas?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point and, as I say, those considerations will form part of the summit that my colleague is holding this Friday. He makes the point that every child is different, and we need to ensure that we provide tailor-made careers advice that is suitable and appropriate for the child. The new arrangements will give schools far greater flexibility to make sure that they are delivering what works to the children they know best.
The Minister talks about outputs, but the reality is that we cannot look at them unless there is some input in the first place. People at my local schools in Blackpool are distraught that the Department has taken away the dedicated £200 million that was supposed to go into providing face-to-face guidance. How does he expect proper provision to be delivered if he is not investing any money in the first place?
The hon. Gentleman will recall that funding for schools has been greatly protected, and now, by taking away the ring fences, we are making sure that schools can deliver the most appropriate, best-quality careers advice for the children they know best. That used to happen when I was at school under a Mr Herbert, although one could say that my ending up as a Member of Parliament does not suggest the best careers advice.
Schools are best placed to decide how to spend the pupil premium in ways that they judge to be most effective in helping their most deprived pupils. We will learn from those schools that are making the most effective use of the premium. From this year, performance tables will publish data showing the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their more affluent peers. From September 2012, schools will provide information to parents about their use of pupil premium funding.
I am not sure that that was quite the answer to my question. Given the importance of this policy, the fact that we are at last beginning to target extra resources on some of the most disadvantaged pupils in all our schools and the fact that there have been so many failed policies in this sphere, how are we going to assess this policy?
The hon. Gentleman is correct in saying that I did not answer his point about Lancaster and Fleetwood, so I will respond to him in writing about it. As I said, schools will be held accountable for their use of the pupil premium by the detail in the performance tables, which will be published from this year, and by the requirement from September 2012 to make it clear how they are spending their pupil premium money in respect of the progress made on the attainment of the pupils it covers. We are also very committed to providing advice on best practice and we will be doing that soon.
Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education
We will announce details of the internal review of personal, social, health and economic education shortly. The issues covered in this subject are very important. We are taking time to ensure that the review, when it starts, can identify what schools need to do to improve PSHE while allowing teachers the flexibility to use their judgment on how best to deliver it.
Figures reported last week showed that among 13 and 14-year-olds more than 1,000 abortions were carried out last year, which just highlights the need for us to do better in providing high-quality sex education taught in the context of relationships. Will the Minister stop delaying the review—it was due to start in February —so that we can ensure that children have access to the vital information and learning they need to develop into healthy and confident young adults?
My hon. Friend is right to say that these are important issues. Children need to have good-quality PSHE at schools, and that is precisely what the review will cover. We are taking our time setting up the review to ensure that its remit is correctly drafted and that the quality of the review gives rise to a high-quality improvement in the teaching of PSHE in those subjects in our schools.
But will he ensure that the need for schools to help to prevent domestic violence and violence between boys and girls is made a priority in the review? Every relevant Committee of this House, including the most recent Select Committee on Home Affairs, has identified that although in Britain we are relatively good at dealing with the policing of domestic violence, we are very bad at preventing it. Schools have more of a role to play; will the Minister ensure that they do that?
Yes. We are determined to play a strong part in the cross-government action plan on ending violence, particularly against women and girls, that is led by the Home Office. We are providing support to families with multiple problems, funded by the early intervention grant, and we are taking forward the recommendations of the Reg Bailey review. The PSHE review will consider sexual consent, which is an important issue to cover, and we are raising standards of behaviour in our schools, with a particular focus on anti-bullying.
There has been an explosion in internal trafficking and the grooming of school girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and although I hate to add more ideas to the curriculum, schools need to discuss that, to identify the symptoms and to explain the dangers to children. I hate to add new material to the work of the Department, but could this problem now be tackled in schools by alerting children to what they might face and how to recognise it?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise these issues. Such actions are crimes and are unacceptable in our society, and the issues that he raises were covered by the Reg Bailey review and will form a part of the review we are asking the committee to consider.
University Technical Colleges
My Department has received 37 applications to open university technical colleges.
The investment in UTCs and technical academies is very welcome and will, I believe, provide a substantial boost to education standards in the areas that will have them. Has my right hon. Friend given any thought to how we can accelerate the UTC programme so that more areas can benefit from this fantastic programme?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a champion of high-quality vocational and technical education. The Government are doing more for vocational and technical education than any and that is why I am so pleased that he is heavily involved with the bid to ensure that Reading receives an appropriate technical academy. We are doing everything possible to accelerate consideration of those bids and to support as many as possible and I am grateful for the support of the Chancellor.
The Secretary of State will know that many of us hope that the university technical school pilots will be successful and we watch with great interest. Has not an important opportunity been missed of working with the further education sector, which knows a lot about teaching young people from the age of 14 in technical subjects? Is there not a great deal of capacity and potential in that market, too?
The hon. Gentleman makes a characteristically shrewd point. Professor Alison Wolf argued in her report that we should ensure parity of esteem between teachers in schools and those in further education colleges, that the qualified teacher learning and skills status, or QTLS, qualification should be considered equivalent to qualified teacher status, or QTS, and that the links between schools and FE colleges should be improved in a number of ways. As ever, the hon. Gentleman hits the nail squarely on the head.
We are currently reviewing the national curriculum. As part of that review, we carried out a call for evidence that attracted nearly 5,800 responses, including many that raised issues about the breadth of the curriculum. The national curriculum sets out the curriculum that all maintained schools must teach, but it is only part of the wider curriculum, which is determined by school themselves. All schools are required to teach a broad and balanced curriculum.
In considering representations, has the Minister thought about what Barack Obama’s Education Secretary said? He commented:
“U.S. students will need both the hard skills of math and English language arts and science, and the soft employability skills, to thrive in our flattened world.”
Will the Minister perhaps reconsider things such as the E-bac curriculum for a flattened world rather than continuing with the flat earth views he seems to have had until now?
Arne Duncan came to this country to see schools such as Mossbourne academy delivering a very high-quality curriculum. The hon. Gentleman must not confuse the national curriculum with the school curriculum. We do not want to set out every minute of every hour of every day in the national curriculum, which was the approach taken by the previous Government. We should leave it to the professionalism of teachers to determine the school curriculum, which covers issues such as soft skills and ensuring that children have a rounded education and are confident people when they leave school.
In conducting his review of the curriculum, will my hon. Friend give consideration to the choices that young people make about GCSE subjects at a young age without having enough information about how those choices might affect their university aspirations? Will he ask schools to make sure that they are aware of the “Informed Choices” document recently published by the Russell group of universities?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is a concern that only 8% of young people who qualify for free school meals are even entered for the English baccalaureate subjects and that only 4% achieve the desired results. The Government are determined to close the attainment gap between those from poorer and those from wealthier backgrounds. Taking the right choices at GCSE and A-level is key to ensuring progression either into further and higher education or into successful employment.
We are very lucky that there is so much excellent music teaching in our schools and we are anxious to ensure that it improves even further. We have made £82.5 million available to make that a reality. In the past few months, we have received almost 4,000 representations on how we can further improve music education.
I do not believe that any school or child will lose out. The hon. Gentleman is very lucky that on his doorstep sits the Sage centre, which is an outstanding exemplar of music education. The funds that we have available and the national music plan that we hope to unveil this autumn will ensure that the already high standards that exist in areas such as south Tyneside are augmented even further in future.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the recent announcement of a national music competition, the “Next BRIT thing”, which is backed by both the Government and the UK music industry? Is it not an example of the Government’s commitment to nurturing our future musical talent?
14. What recent representations he has received on the teaching of British history to all children of secondary school age. (64610)
We have received a number of representations about the teaching of history in secondary schools and about the place of British history in the curriculum. In addition, as part of our review of the national curriculum, our recent call for evidence attracted nearly 5,800 responses, of which more than 2,500 related to history.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. One of the great achievements of the previous Conservative Government was ensuring that every child learned some British history before leaving school, but some academies are now designing alternative curricula for pupils who will not achieve a C grade in the English baccalaureate, which might mean that they do not study history at all—at secondary school at least. What steps is my hon. Friend taking to impress on academy head teachers the importance of all children being taught British history?
I agree with my hon. and learned Friend about the importance of teaching history in schools, particularly British history, and we know that teachers share this view. Having the flexibility for teachers to be imaginative in how they design the curriculum within a broad and balanced context is a key feature of the academies programme, and the improvements we have seen in academies’ GCSE results suggests that this approach is working well among academies. However, we hope and expect that the curriculum review will deliver a high-quality national curriculum that academies will wish to adopt. It is important that we do not limit aspiration, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, and that is why we will be publishing data specifically about the GCSE results of lower-attaining students on a school-by-school basis.
Will the Minister confirm that the most recent Ofsted report stated that the decline in the teaching of British history was a myth? Is not the real issue that the average 11 to 13-year-old receives only 38 hours of history teaching a year, with academies being among the worst-performing schools in that regard?
There is a lot of very high-quality history teaching taking place at both primary and secondary level but we are concerned about the drop in the proportion of young people taking history at GCSE, which fell from 35% of the cohort in 1997 to just 31% in 2009. Addressing that lies at the heart of the reason for introducing the concept of the English baccalaureate.
Sure Start Children’s Centres
The Department for Education does not collect detailed information on Sure Start children’s centres in individual local authorities. Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that there are sufficient children’s centres in their area to meet local need, so far as is reasonably practicable. It is for local authorities to commission Sure Start children’s centres and to monitor and evaluate the use and impact of their services.
There have been 45% cuts in the Sure Start budget in one year; nine centres deregistering because they have had more than 90% cuts and cannot function; and parents taking and winning judicial reviews to restore a basic service. In February the Minister said that she was monitoring the situation in Hammersmith and Fulham because there were particular concerns. Will she do more than monitor now and take some action while we still have any Sure Start centres left?
I know that the hon. Gentleman has raised this issue on many occasions. He might also be aware that last week we announced some changes to the Sure Start programme so that we will be piloting payment by results, for example. We will also require local authorities to publish information about what they are spending and on what services. If local authorities are systematically downgrading services, as he suggests, they will obviously not be eligible to benefit from payment by results, and we will be able to see that clearly from the transparency requirements that we are putting in place.
The Minister is right to be careful when faced with the wild misrepresentations on the issue from the Opposition Benches. Is she aware that Hammersmith and Fulham council has announced that it is committed not only to maintaining its existing 15 children’s centre venues, but to expanding them by a further one centre?
I know that the Minister wants parents to be more involved in their local children’s centres, but I am not sure that parents taking their council to court is exactly what she meant. Will the Secretary of State and the Ministers accept that it was their choice to slash the funding and remove the ring fence that led to the present chaos? If so, will they use the imminent early years statement finally to set out how they will keep their promise and the Prime Minister’s numerous promises to protect Sure Start from cuts and closures?
Thank you, Mr Speaker.
The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) will just have to wait with bated breath for our early years statement, which will be out shortly and in which we will make further announcements about Sure Start and how we intend to improve the quality of early years.
Three high schools in Harrow East have applied to convert to academy status and are aiming to convert in a collaborative partnership with four other high schools in Harrow. A primary school is also aiming to convert in the autumn. More than 1,000 schools in England have applied to convert to academy status since June 2010. The total number of open academies, including those opened under the previous Government, now stands at 801.
I congratulate the Secretary of State on leading this quiet revolution in education in this country, freeing schools from the dead hand of local education authorities and allowing them to develop and grow. What role does he foresee local education authorities fulfilling in the future, and what arrangements is he making for the governance of these new schools to enable them to flourish and grow?
Local authorities have a crucial role to play in education in ensuring fairness of admissions, making sure that the needs of children who have, for example, high-level special educational needs are respected, and making sure that when it comes to behaviour and attendance, there is appropriate collaboration. They also have a critical role to play as champions of excellence. The best local authorities pursue this role with vigour. Not all do, however.
The short answer is probably. The long answer is that under the arrangements for the 16 to 19 bursary fund, the most vulnerable young people—young people in care, care leavers, those on income support, and disabled young people in receipt of both employment support allowance and disability living allowance—will receive bursaries of £1,200 a year. Young people being raised by kinship carers may fall into this category, depending on the nature of the placement, and may also receive support from the discretionary funding.
I am disappointed that the Minister cannot give a more specific response. These carers have stepped up to the plate, often when children have been abandoned or orphaned, and often at great financial and personal cost to themselves. I urge him to listen to organisations such as Kinship Care Alliance and, if the Government are as family-friendly as he will no doubt tell us they are in answering the question, look at families that do not fit the nuclear model and perhaps live in chaotic circumstances, but who still need help?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady that kinship carers do a fantastic job, and we want more of them to step up to do it and be supported in that, but it depends on the nature of the placement and whether it is formal or informal. If it is informal, those children and young people will be able to apply for discretionary funding and could end up getting more than they would have done under the old EMA arrangements. We have taken those considerations into account.
The Government are committed to promoting family-friendly policies that can support better child outcomes, help parents to balance work and family life and deliver real benefits to employers. The Department is funding a scheme to support organisations to adopt more family-friendly services and working environments for clients and employees. The Government are consulting on proposals to introduce more flexible parental leave and extend the right to flexible working to all employees.
I am very aware of the difficulties that many families face in accessing suitable child care, which is one of the reasons why we announced last week that we will consult on a more flexible arrangement for adopting the free entitlement so that families can access it a little earlier and a little later in the day, for example. That is exactly why we extended the free entitlement to 15 hours.
I am delighted that my Department, following extremely hard work by the Minister of State, Department for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), and our behaviour adviser Mr Charlie Taylor, has today published new behaviour guidance, which is significantly slimmer, and more focused and effective. It has been widely welcomed by teachers as at last getting to grips with the indiscipline in some of our weakest schools.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. He recently mentioned that there were about 200 failing primary schools in this country, which is a shocking statistic. Although there is no list, I believe that Shelthorpe primary school in my constituency is one of them. When judging whether a school is failing, what allowances are made for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, cases of social deprivation, cases involving social care and the number of free school meals? Also, the school’s head teacher has asked me to invite the Secretary of State to visit the school.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s question. We specifically take into account not just raw attainment, but the progress that children are making in school to ensure that any judgment is properly contextualised. The 200 weakest schools are those that have been below floor standards for five years. Let me be clear: that means that more than 40% of students leaving those schools over the previous four years have been incapable of reading, writing or adding up to an acceptable level. We absolutely need to take action where schools are failing and where communities are aware that those schools are not performing as well as they should be. I hope that Members on both sides of the House will recognise that such action is necessary.
T5. Will the Secretary of State reassure the parents, teachers and governors of Moorside school in Halifax that they will get the necessary capital funding for the new build they have been promised for so long, and if so, say when they will get it? (64626)
It is vital to ensure that we have an accurate picture of the schools that are most in need of capital funding. One of the unfortunate consequences of decisions made by the previous Government is that in about 2006 we stopped collecting data at a national level on the state of school buildings, which means that we do not have an accurate picture of the schools that are most in need. The hon. Lady makes a very good case for a school in her constituency, which I know she represents effectively, but we have to look at the picture in the round.
T2. Five families have been refused admission to Wootton primary school on the Isle of Wight from the beginning of next term, which means that four-year-olds will have to travel to other schools, the nearest of which is 2.5 miles away. Mothers who want to travel with their child would have to pay for that, assuming that public transport was available. This is a complete scandal. Surely the ridiculous limits on the size of primary schools imposed by the Labour party need to be reconsidered, and before the beginning of next term. (64623)
I have every sympathy with my hon. Friend’s point. It is not the first time that we have received reports of this nature, with families frustrated and confused by an admissions system that is too complex and bureaucratic and which effectively rations places in good and popular schools. That is why we are consulting on simpler and fairer admissions systems. The key point is that there are simply not enough good school places, so it was absurd that it was not possible before to raise the number of places in good schools. Increasing the flexibility to do so is therefore a major part of the new admissions code.
The baccalaureate’s emphasis on ancient history and Latin will allow our students to cope admirably with the Roman invasion 2,000 years ago, but leave them less able to cope with modern life, because of the neglect of IT. In which century are the Government living?
It is a source of considerable pride to me that the number of students studying Latin in comprehensives is the highest ever. We are presiding over the greatest renaissance in Latin learning since Julius Caesar invaded. [Interruption.] Those who are about to answer should be saluted, as we say in Latin. The critical thing is that we have to ensure that our examinations in every subject are up there with the best in the world. It is striking that before he went to university, one of the iconic figures of the 21st century—Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook—studied Latin, Greek and classical Hebrew.
T3. I recently met parents who send their children to Sceptre school, a Christian-based independent school that has decided to apply for free school status. They said: “Overall, we will be able to enrich the choice and diversity that will, in turn, drive up standards and increase opportunities.”Is that not an example of the Conservative-led Government delivering? (64624)
I am hugely grateful to my hon. Friend for pointing out the enormous interest in our free school programme. Everyone from former advisers in Tony Blair’s No. 10 through to figures from grass-roots faith organisations has embraced that reform. I fear that the only people who are still standing against that wave of the future are the isolated and neolithic figures of the Labour Front Bench.
The Secretary of State knows that one of the neediest schools that he has to deal with—and it was described as a compelling case by one of his junior Ministers—is Tibshelf, which was built before the first world war. Pit props are holding up part of the roof, and teachers have to tramp between one school and another to keep the show on the road. When is the Secretary of State going to give the Tibshelf people a chance to have their new school built?
The hon. Gentleman is a consistent and effective campaigner on behalf of the parents, children and teachers of Tibshelf school, and I congratulate them on having such an impassioned defender. However, that school is in such poor repair because, under 13 years of Labour rule, money was wasted. It did not go to the front line, and the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, like many poorer students around the country, were failed by an arrogant, unaccountable and out-of-touch Labour Government.
T4. The Sutton Trust has recently stated that under the previous Government, between 2007 and 2009, a group of 2,000 secondary schools and sixth-form colleges sent fewer pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than just five of our leading independent schools. Will my right hon. Friend join me in deploring that situation, and will he set out what this Government are going to do to put that record right? (64625)
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point out that social mobility went backwards under Labour. Poorer students had a better chance of going to university before the Labour Government came to power than after they left office. We are changing that, and we are making sure that with increased investment through the pupil premium, higher standards in the English baccalaureate and a remorseless drive to get the best possible teachers into the classroom, standards rise for the poorest. It is a great pity that the once so-called party of progress is standing in the way of that necessary reform.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), Ministers repeated the confusion about who will, or will not, be eligible for education maintenance allowance. Given the overwhelming evidence that young people need to know whether they will receive EMA so that they can make a decision to go to college, will the Government think again?
I am grateful for the point that the hon. Lady makes. We are doing everything possible to ensure that the replacement for education maintenance allowance, the discretionary learner support fund, is in place as soon as possible. We had consultations with college principals who said that while they accepted that these were straitened times, they would prefer to have discretion over how that funding was allocated, and we are happy to accede to that general advice.
T6. At Frogwell primary school in Chippenham I have seen for myself the success of the Every Child Counts drive for early intervention to aid numeracy in Wiltshire schools. How does the Secretary of State propose to monitor the take-up of such programmes now that the budgets that pay for them have been delegated to schools themselves? (64627)
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Catch-up programmes in numeracy and literacy are hugely important. That is why we are making sure that in our reform of the accountability measures for all schools we take account not only of the raw attainment at the end of primary school but of how children do, particularly when they are from poorer backgrounds or have low levels of prior attainment. It is not for us to prescribe exactly the method, but it is for us to ensure that the poorest are better served.
Can the Education Secretary confirm that the objective of his schools reforms, particularly the introduction of free schools, is to provide an over-supply of schools, thereby inevitably setting some schools up for failure? Has he made an assessment of the costs and upheaval that that will generate?
That is an interesting ideological take, but I am afraid that the hon. Lady is wrong. If she wants to talk about setting schools up for failure, she should look at the at east 200 underperforming primary schools that we were discussing earlier. Free schools will introduce innovation and higher standards to some of the areas that are desperately in need of new schools. They will also ensure that the growth in pupil population at primary, for which the previous Government failed to prepare adequately, is at last addressed with innovative new schools in the places that count.
T7. How can parents of children with special needs be more involved in the education of their children? I recently met parents at Ripplevale school in my constituency who say that they must not only battle the difficulties and challenges that are obvious to all but battle the education authority, time and again, to get a fair, decent and proper education for their children. (64628)
We finished our consultation on the Green Paper on 30 June and received 2,300 responses along similar lines to those my hon. Friend has outlined. I feel very passionately about the need to involve parents better, particularly if their child has special educational needs. That is one of the reasons we are rolling out Achievement for All—a programme that does exactly that.
When do Ministers expect to come to a conclusion with the devolved Administrations on the replacement for the child trust fund for looked-after children, which was promised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer some months ago but which, as far as I can see, is still yet to reach its final stages?
I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that over the past few weeks a lot of discussions have been going on between the Treasury, ourselves, some of the charities involved and hon. Members who have made these proposals. There are a number of practical problems that we have to overcome to make sure that we get the most cost-effective scheme that has the biggest impact for those who most need it, but I can assure him that it is going to happen.
T8. May I commend strongly to the Secretary of State the proposal for a free school at Breckland school in Brandon—a middle school that was set for closure under the previous Administration? If that happened, there would be no post-11 education in Brandon, but if it gets the go-ahead as a free school there will be education all the way up to 16. That will have a massively positive impact on the community, and I hope that he will commend it. (64629)
I agree with the Secretary of State’s aim to raise standards in primary schools. Will he therefore meet me to discuss why he is seeking to remove the outstanding leadership of a primary school in my constituency that has been praised by his permanent secretary and has this year taken children above floor standards, and where his proposals threaten to make the situation much worse?
T9. Over recent weeks, I have seen many parents in my constituency surgery who are extremely unhappy because they could not get their sons and daughters into the schools of their choice. What can my right hon. Friend do to end this school place lottery and get more good school places in my constituency? (64630)
My hon. Friend raises a good point, which is a major concern of this Government. More than one in six parents have children who are not offered a place at their preferred school. That has led to 85,000 appeals. We are reviewing the admissions process, which is far too complex to understand and administer. One of the proposals is to allow good schools to raise the pupil admissions number. We have had a very good response to the consultation so far and will announce our response in due course.
It appears that the 16 to 19 funding consultation for 2013-14 will not be published until September at the earliest. Will the Secretary of State take steps to ensure that that does not delay the publication of information about the 2012-13 budgets for schools and colleges?
T10. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the five schools in my city of Lincoln constituency that have converted into academies, the latest being Ermine primary school? Does he agree that academy status can bring significant benefits to schools across England by providing them with greater freedoms, rather than top-down bureaucracy, as was witnessed under the previous Labour Government? (64631)
Every head teacher and teacher I have spoken to dislikes and has enormous disrespect for the E-bac. I have not come across a single educationist who supports the Secretary of State. It is causing chaos at key stage 4 and in our schools. Is that what he meant by giving more power and autonomy to teachers?
Open Public Services White Paper
With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about the open public services White Paper.
There could not be a more important issue than this. Public services save lives, rescue people from disease and ignorance, and protect people from crime and poverty. Much of what is done by our public services is fantastic and they are among the best in the world, but we can do even better. This Government have a vision, which is set out in this White Paper, about how we can do better.
The central point is that when public services are not up to scratch, those who are well off can pay for substitutes, but for those who are not well off, there is no opportunity to pay for substitutes. We need to give everybody the same choice in and power over the services they receive that well-off people already have. This White Paper sets out how we will put that vision of choice and power for all into practice.
Our principles are clear. They are choice, decentralisation, diversity, fair access and accountability. We will increase choice wherever possible; power will be decentralised to the lowest appropriate level; public services will be open to a diverse range of providers; we will ensure that there is fair access and fair funding for all; and services will be accountable to users and taxpayers.
I will give examples of how those principles will apply in specific public services that cater for specific individuals. First, we will ensure that every adult receiving social care has an individual, personal budget by 2013, and we are moving towards personal budgets in chronic health care, for children with special needs, and in housing for vulnerable people. That means that there will be more choice and power for people who need those services. They will be able to choose what their money and the taxpayer’s money is spent on.
Secondly, we are making funding follow the pupil in schools, the student in further education, the child in child care and the patient in the NHS. That means that there will be more choice and power for people who need those services. They will be able to choose where the money is spent.
Thirdly, we are providing fair access so that, for example, a pupil premium follows pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and a health premium is paid to the local authorities that achieve the greatest improvements in public health for people in the least healthy parts of the country. We attach huge importance to that agenda. We want genuine equality of opportunity and genuine social mobility.
Fourthly, we are providing open access to data so that people can make informed choices about the services they use, such as crime maps, whereby they can see whether the local police are preventing crime in their street; health outcomes, whereby they people can see which hospitals and GPs achieve the best results; standardised satisfaction data for all public services, whereby they can see exactly which service providers are providing the quality of service they want; and open, real-time data on road conditions, speeds and accidents along our motorways, whereby they can make informed choices.
Fifthly, we will provide a new system of redress, through beefed-up powers of the ombudsmen to step in when a choice to which people have a right is denied. However, we are going further. We are not only concerned about increased choice and power for individuals, we are also determined to increase choice and power for communities so that they can determine how money is spent on their communal public services. We will do that by making it far easier for communities to take over and run public assets and assets of community value, by giving them the right to build houses for their own children and by giving parish councils and community groups the right to challenge, enabling them to take over local services and making it easier for people to form neighbourhood councils where there is none at present. We will also give neighbourhoods vastly more power to determine their own neighbourhood planning and the ability to challenge the local police at beat meetings, informed by crime maps. Let us remember that the people at those meetings will each be electors of the local police commissioner.
We recognise, of course, that some services will inevitably continue to be commissioned centrally, or by various levels of local government. Here, too, we are aiming at decentralisation, diversity and accountability. The White Paper sets out how we will use payment by results to transform welfare to work, the rehabilitation of offenders, drug and alcohol recovery, help for children in the foundation years and support for vulnerable adults. In all those areas, a diverse range of providers will be given a huge incentive to provide the social gains that our society so desperately needs by being rewarded for getting people into work, out of crime, off drugs and alcohol and into the opportunities that most of us take for granted.
To strengthen accountability, the White Paper also sets out the most radical programme of transparency for Government and the public sector anywhere in the world. To unlock innovation, the White Paper commits us to diversity of provision, removing barriers to entry, stimulating entry by new types of provider and unlocking new sources of capital. To ensure that public sector providers can hold their own on a level playing field, the White Paper sets out measures to liberate public sector bodies from red tape.
To encourage employee ownership within the public services, the White Paper sets out the measures that we are taking to promote mutualisation and employee co-operatives. To ensure that services continue if particular service providers fail, it sets out the principles for the continuity regimes that we are establishing service by service. [Interruption.] Marxist or not Marxist, in the past 13 months this Government have done more to increase choice and power for those served by our public services than the Labour party achieved in 13 years. The White Paper describes the comprehensive, consistent, coherent approach that we are taking to keep our public services moving in the direction of increased choice and power for service users, so that we can provide access to excellence for all. That is the aim behind the White Paper, and I commend it to the House.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in providing me with a copy of his statement ahead of time. I have to say that although I believe absolutely his sincerity in what he has told the House, his comparison with the Labour Government wins the parliamentary prize for blooming cheek, if that is not unparliamentary language. I would rather rely on the judgment of Reform, the right-of-centre think tank, about these proposals. It states:
“The Coalition may argue that these inconsistencies”
in the White Paper
“are good politics. In fact they are bad politics because they undermine confidence that the Government is serious about reform.”
That is the problem, because there is nothing new in this White Paper.
Today’s statement is typical of the Government’s approach to policy in general. As the right hon. Gentleman reflected, our public services, on which people of all ages in our country depend and which are often the determinant of whether their life is worth living, face significant challenges, particularly at the hands of the Tory-led coalition, which is making cuts too far and too fast. People live much longer and have ever-rising expectations, but it appears from the way in which this White Paper was launched that the Cabinet Office is more preoccupied with spin and presentation than in substantive proposals.
The White Paper contains few new ideas and even fewer new proposals. In most of the cases to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, the Government are lagging behind the action of the previous Labour Government. He referred to personal budgets. The Sunday Times was told several weeks ago that the right to a personal budget, which is now used by approximately 250,000 adults, was to be extended to those with long-term conditions and to children with special needs, yet there is nothing of that in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the expansion of mutuals, which was also showcased in a variety of this weekend’s newspapers. Back in November, the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General undertook to put in place rights to provide for public sector workers, meaning that they could take over the running of services, but no time scale for such proposals has been forthcoming.
Ahead of today’s White Paper, I set out three tests for public service reform. First, will the reforms make services more accountable and responsive to the needs of service users? Secondly, will there be clear accountability for how public money is spent, and will members of the public be protected? Thirdly and finally, will the proposals strengthen the bonds of family and community life?
The Government are failing the test of reform, because their policies are inconsistent between Departments and sometimes within them, and nothing more has been done to put communities in control or to make people more powerful.
My questions to the Minister, therefore, are these. Given that this much-trumpeted and much-awaited White Paper has not even caught up with the legacy of the previous Labour Government, who deleted the ambition from it: the officials or the Liberal Democrats? What are the plans for millions of people to become their own bosses, as was set out in the coalition document? What assurance does he give to those workers that there will be continuity of pensions and employment benefits? When will the coalition Government exceed and expand the proposals already put in place for personal budgets by the previous Labour Government? He may have received private advice that hospitals and schools should be allowed to fail, but will he make it absolutely clear, and publicly, that he will not allow that to happen? In the funding of those new services, will he also rule out competition by price?
The Reform report says:
“Viewed as a whole, the Government’s public service reform policies are all over the place. The Government’s failure to adhere consistently to its principles gives an air of unreality to the whole programme.”
The losers will not be Members of this House, or even members of the Government, but the millions of people up and down the country whose quality of life depends on the public services that they use.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for her critique, but I think she has to decide whether her objection is that the White Paper does not do as many of the things that the previous Labour Government were doing already—that was part of what she seemed to be arguing—or that the proposals will do damage. If she is maintaining both positions, she must be admitting that the Labour Government did great damage, which I doubt is what she wants to admit.
To some degree, the White Paper continues where the previous Labour Government left off—they did some things that we think were good and which we are carrying through, evolving and developing. That is a sensible and, I hope the House will agree, grown-up way of conducting politics because not everything our opponents think or do is necessarily wrong. However, the White Paper carries the previous Government’s programme much further, deeper and wider to deal with the very questions that the right hon. Lady addressed. For example, under the previous Administration, there was no proper system for continuity of service. One reason for the problems with Southern Cross—a legacy issue left by the previous Government—is that the previous Government did not design proper continuity-of-service regimes for the health and social care services. We are now attempting to design such regimes for all services. I hope that on mature reflection she will welcome that.
The right hon. Lady asked whether we would accept competition by price, which we have made abundantly clear we will not accept, including in the NHS. We want competition by quality, which is very different, although I assume she would agree that it makes sense to accept competition partly by price when trying, as the Government are doing, to tender through central procurement. That is certainly something that the previous Government did all the time. There are differences here, but they do not amount to inconsistencies; they amount to a coherent attempt to apply a set of principles differently in different services precisely because different services demand different treatments. She must know that. If she is claiming that much of this depends on what the Labour Government did, I would point out that they certainly did different things in different places. The White Paper is about carrying forward a programme that will benefit those using public services by giving them choice and power.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on basing his reforms on the admirable principles of choice and of giving people the information to make informed choices and, where possible, a diversity of providers to choose between? Choice is good not only for the people making the choice, but for the vast majority who will not exercise that choice but will see the quality of services rise under the influence of choice. However, may I caution him about trying to shoe-horn too many services under one elegant, all-embracing umbrella? Experience shows that it is better to do it section by section, service by service, because the real world is never as elegant as one’s intellectual constructions.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, which is why the White Paper specifically makes clear not only that we will treat individual services differently from community services and services commissioned centrally, but that we will take each service on its own merits and design a regime that applies the general principles differently. That is clearly the right way to go. However, his point is vital. The purpose of giving choice and power to individuals and communities is not just to benefit the particular individuals making the choices; it is to benefit everybody by ensuring that those choices are brought to bear in a way that improves services for all.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that I am a long-standing supporter of decentralisation and involving more local people in their public services. His White Paper and previous statements have made much of involving social enterprises and charities and the third sector in the provision of public services. On that basis, will he confirm that there will be an asset lock when services are transferred, particularly to social enterprises, to ensure that the organisations carrying out these services are genuine social enterprises? If he really means what he says, why have 90% of major contracts for the Work programme gone to big companies such as Serco, Capita and G4S, leaving the social enterprise sector and charities to pick up the crumbs from the table?
In answer to the right hon. Lady’s first point, I would say that when assets are being transferred provision needs to be made to ensure that they are there for the public good and on a permanent basis. We intend to do that in every case in which it applies. On her point about the Work programme, I think she is missing a vital component of what the Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), who has responsibility for employment, has done. It is a textbook case: he was concerned that not all the bids would come from consortia in the voluntary and community sector—only a few did—so he took steps to create a protocol relating the prime contractor to the subcontractors, as a result of which the prime contractors have to treat properly the small voluntary and community bodies that in many cases are also the subcontractors. We desperately need—and intend—to get that into the mainstream of how the Government go about business.
In welcoming this White Paper, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that one of its key foundations is the doctrine that information is power, and that if we want to make public services really accountable to the people who use them and pay for them, we will have to learn the new discipline of telling sometimes uncomfortable truths about those areas in which public services do not live up to the standards that we all want to see? That is what Mr Gorbachev used to call “glasnost”. May we have a policy of glasnost in our public services?
I completely agree with my right hon. Friend that glasnost has to precede and accompany perestroika; we cannot have reconstruction, or proper choice, without transparency. That is why we have put in place exactly what he recommends—namely, a transparency regime that will in many cases cause difficulties and embarrassments for the Government. That will be worth bearing, however, to achieve real improvement. I shall give my right hon. Friend an example. In the past, there were many people, not only Labour Members but among the public at large, who said that crime maps would have no real effect and that no one would be interested in them. However, millions of people have now started using crime maps. When we also give those people the right to use beat meetings and make them electors of locally elected police commissioners, we shall be transferring power from the central state out to the people who are being served. That is a very powerful combination.
Is not this White Paper the somewhat unfortunate offspring of the Minister’s previous passionately held ambition to privatise the world and the first Thatcherite attempt to take away power from local authorities, which resulted in all in-house services being taken away from local political power and brought absolute chaos for those who were dependent on the services? As he has clearly not learned from those previous mistakes, how can he possibly guarantee that the same chaos will not ensue once this White Paper goes through?
The hon. Lady has to deal with a question between herself and her own Front Bench. She will have noticed that the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) made it clear that she thought that our proposals lagged behind what the Labour Government had already tried to do. I do not think that the Labour Government would ever have accused themselves of trying to privatise everything in sight. If the Opposition are saying that the White Paper continues measures that the Labour Government were doing, they cannot possibly accuse us of trying to privatise everything in sight. Nor would it be sensible to privatise everything in that way. The White Paper makes it absolutely clear throughout that we are neutral as between public sector providers, voluntary sector providers, community groups, mutuals, co-operatives and the private sector. I hope that we will eventually get over this absurd ideological divide, because we want something very simple—namely, the best service for the person who is using it. We do not care who provides the best service; we just want to ensure that the best service is always available and that people have a choice between providers so that they can get it. I would have thought that that would join the two sides of the House.
Between 1997 and 2010, there was a 57% real-terms increase in public spending, but there was no such corresponding increase in productivity in the public sector. How does my right hon. Friend envisage his plans increasing productivity and delivering greater value for money, including for our taxpayers in Dorset?
I am delighted to help out my hon. Friend and Dorset colleague on this. What he says is absolutely true: there was a vast increase in spending on public services during the last Government. Alas, the improvements in the outcomes were not as great as the inputs. That is precisely what we are trying to tackle, and we are doing it in an age-old way, by introducing innovation and diversity of supply, as well as choice and power for the people using the services, so that there is real pressure on all providers to improve. We need continuous pressure for improvement and continuous transparency on whether the services are improving, as well as a continuous ability for people who find a service being provided better elsewhere to choose the best service. Those are the methods that always improve quality.
Most of the examples that the Minister has given are devolved, although he did mention welfare to work. He may know that there is concern in many rural and remote communities about the ability of alternative providers to deliver services. Can he at least give us an assurance that such change will not be driven through for purely ideological reasons where there is clearly no infrastructure to support alternative deliverers?
Yes, in the sense that this White Paper sets out a programme not to enforce diversity of provision, but to enable it. If the community wishes to leave a particular service that is provided by only one provider where it is, that will be for the community to judge. If the community believes that in some cases it is worth having a diversity of suppliers, that is what the community will be able to do. I am speaking now about areas that are mainly devolved, as the hon. Gentleman said; hence, I am speaking about England. I leave it to him and his colleagues to deal with those in Scotland. In the case of the Work programme, there is a diversity of suppliers; indeed, there had to be, in order to create competitive pressure to ensure that those who succeed also succeed in being paid, and that those who do not succeed are quickly replaced by those who will, because it is a payment-by-results programme and the aim is to get people back to work. We want the providers that are best at getting people back to work to be those that remain in business.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and the excellent White Paper, which lays such emphasis on choice for individuals in the type of public services they wish to have. Does he agree that we cannot say that we are in favour of choice and then insist that a particular service be run by a monopolistic local authority? Nor can we say that we are against competition if we are also complaining about too much public procurement going to large private sector companies that were in favour of more competition, not less.
My hon. Friend is right that we have to maintain consistency. If we are going to achieve real choice and real power for those who are served by public services, we have to allow for diversity of provision and to be on our guard always to ensure that those who can enter the market are able to do so. That is one reason why the White Paper contains specific provisions for redress where particular providers find that they are being kept out of the market. One of the techniques that we are using for doing that was developed by the previous Government. The competition and co-operation panel and its rules, which were set up by the last Labour Government, will apply in the NHS. That is the right kind of system, and we need to replicate it in a whole series of other domains where diverse providers currently have no redress if they are prevented from entering the market.
The right hon. Gentleman made a lot in his speech of the potential for local community groups to take over assets of community value and seize control of planning in their areas. He will be aware that there are community groups in various areas of the country—I would remind him of the route of High Speed 2—that are not necessarily in favour of development and may wish to use enhanced powers to stop it. He will also be conscious that the Chancellor said in his Budget speech that in such instances of national economic development interest, the default planning position should be to say yes. Who will prevail in a conflict between a community wanting to stop a development and the Chancellor wanting it to proceed?
The right hon. Gentleman is too much of an expert to need me to tell him this, but I will tell him because he asks for it. We have, of course, established a two-level system. For most planning decisions, we hope that the neighbourhood will take charge by engaging in neighbourhood planning. We believe that the incentives that we have built into the financial system—including the ability to get a meaningful proportion of the community infrastructure levy paid to the neighbourhood if it has more housing and development in its area—will lead neighbourhoods on the whole to prefer development. The presumption of sustainable development means that their neighbourhood plans will have to include development of an appropriate kind in order to pass muster. There will be an assessment of local housing need that contributes to that, which plans will have to observe.
However, nobody is going to pretend in our Government, any more than in the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, that any neighbourhood will welcome a nuclear power station just next to it or a railway line running straight through it. Of course there will be objections in those cases, which is why we have maintained and democratised the very system that he and his colleagues set up—because they, too, operated a two-level system—in order to accelerate planning applications for major pieces of national infrastructure. There is no disagreement between us and the right hon. Gentleman on that, and there is no reason for him to invent one.
I very much welcome what we have heard about employee involvement in the running of organisations, and mutuality is a subject that my party has advocated for a long time. I also welcome the greater role for parish councils in local services. I am concerned, however, about local assets being run by community groups and the accountability of that mechanism. Will the Minister ensure that, as these proposals move forward, accountability lies at the heart of any change?
One danger of welfare to work is that people can be put into jobs for which they are totally unsuited. How long will these people need to stay in work before their providers are paid for the result of their efforts in finding them a job?
The Work programme sets out a series of staged payments made to the providers when they get people into work. Full payment is made only if they keep those people in work over a sustained period. There is a huge incentive for each provider to find people work only of a kind that they will wish to remain in for the long term.
The Government should be congratulated on bringing forward a genuine Conservative proposal. Was the Minister advised by his civil servants that this policy was both brave and courageous and is there a danger that the Government will row back from this as the years go on?
No, there is no danger that the Government will row back from this as the years go on. I can tell my hon. Friend that I have received a great deal of advice—some of it highly constructive and some of it not at all constructive—as has my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Secretary, with whom I have worked closely on producing this White Paper.
Using the example of Southern Cross, on which a statement should have been made today, will the Minister tell us clearly what the White Paper says about market failure? The Government have been absolutely silent about market failure in this public service, as a result of which literally thousands of elderly people are now concerned about where they will spend their future.
As I said in my opening remarks, Southern Cross is a clear case of a legacy failure from the previous Government, because the arrangements under which Southern Cross operated—[Interruption.] There is no point in Labour Members denying this; the arrangements under which it operated were set up during the previous Administration. There is a serious point of public policy here, which is that a proper continuity regime was not established in the national health service or the social care system by the previous Government. I admit that this also applies to Governments before that, but it now needs to be cured. That is why we set out in this White Paper a series of principles that will govern the continuity regimes that we will set up to make sure that when individual providers fail, the people using the service have continuity in respect of it. We are fulfilling that same principle in what we are doing now to ensure that every single person looked after by Southern Cross continues to receive continuity of care.
I welcome the White Paper in putting some flesh on the bones of the big society. Does my right hon. Friend agree that for the big society to work, it has to support the little society? Will he make sure that the community groups up for tender are not accessed only by the big Tesco campaigning charities so that genuinely local and grass-roots organisations will have an equal chance?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is indeed a point we make very forcefully in the White Paper. It is our intention that a local community group should be able to get to work and do things itself either in its own local neighbourhood or as a service provider to individuals on its own basis in its own way. The means we use to achieve that is ensuring that, if the little providers are excluded from entry to the open opportunities we are creating, they will have redress.
If local communities within a city or town decide that they want to take over the local park, how will the budgets be set, will they increase over time, and what will happen in respect of the possible residualisation of, say, the 50% of parks for which a viable service can no longer be run?
The hon. Lady appears to think that we are talking about amounts of money here, but what we are talking about is how the same amount of money is used. Whatever amount of money is being spent at the moment on a park, we say that the locals should have the right to challenge and to be able to take over the park if they can provide a proper way of running it themselves for the same amount of money—neither more nor less. I would have thought that the hon. Lady shared that ambition with me; it will not cause the problem she alludes to.
I congratulate the Government on picking up the best of the Blair legacy for the purposes of these reforms. Like the Minister, I noted the observation of the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) that there was nothing new in the White Paper. What consideration have the Government given to the role of trade unions as providers and enablers, and does the Minister believe that they could provide such services for their members?
I hope very much that trade unions will play a role. In conjunction with Cabinet colleagues, I am holding a series of meetings with public service unions to discuss how they can help to design some of the details of the reforms so that they will work better.
The White Paper includes a commitment to promoting mutuals and co-operatives, but, as many Labour Members have pointed out, the rhetoric does not quite match the reality. The reality is that the diversity of which the right hon. Gentleman talks does not include alternative structures. What will he do to enable mutuals and co-operatives to compete for public services on a level playing field with all the other organisations?
The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General, my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr Maude), is taking a series of steps not just to enable, but to promote mutualisation and co-operatives across the whole range of public services. [Interruption.] I beg the hon. Gentleman to give us a little time. That action is already beginning to work, and I think that in four years’ time he will see a vast field of mutuals and co-operatives working constructively throughout public services.
We want to be strictly neutral. We want to favour providers of all kinds—mutuals, co-operatives, voluntary sector organisations, community groups, private sector bodies and, of course, the public sector itself—if they can provide the best possible services for users of those services. That is our aim.
As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on employee ownership, I congratulate the Government on the White Paper. Might some thought be given—in addition to an asset lock—to the provision of a golden share in some of these enterprises? By giving some scope and protection in the short term, might that not allow more of them to be transferred into the mutual and employee-owned sectors?
My hon. Friend makes a good and interesting point, and there may well be cases in which that is the appropriate method. I know that he is a serious student of these matters. Perhaps when he has had time to read the White Paper, he would like to discuss where that idea might apply. We are certainly more than willing to entertain it.
The Minister said in his statement that the White Paper “sets out the most radical programme of transparency for Government and the public sector anywhere in the world.” Will that apply to private sector companies and other organisations that might end up running public services?
It will apply to every public service provider, regardless of sector. We are interested not in who the provider is, but in whether the service provided is a good one. In every instance we will be totally transparent about the quality of services, and will enable people to make choices on that basis. If the private sector cannot match the voluntary or public sector, people will choose to take the offerings of one of those sectors, and that is as it should be.
I welcome the statement and the White Paper, and note the already enthusiastic interest in these matters in my constituency. Does the Minister agree that the transition from ideas to action will be best effected through co-operation and partnership between providers, professionals and users?
I think that my hon. Friend will be proved right in many cases. I hope that he will encourage just such co-operation in his constituency, as I will in mine. If there are any instances in which he feels that we could assist that process, we should be more than delighted to meet him and discuss how we can do so.
The Minister has made much of transparency and accountability, but if data are to enable citizens to hold public bodies to account they must be accessible in a consistent form, as, for example, crime maps are. What central guidance will the Minister establish to ensure that citizens have access to data so that they can hold public bodies to account?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Consumers, patients, pupils and all the other users of services cannot possibly be expected to make the choices we are going to enable them to make on an informed basis unless there are standardised data. That is why we are going to produce standardised satisfaction data in each public service so—[Interruption.] Yes, so people can see what is being provided and how happy, or unhappy, people are with the results. For example, patient-reported outcomes in the NHS are a vital component in patients making choices about where to go for their treatment, but information on that has been lagging for years. I know the previous Government were in principle in favour of that, but we will now bring them into action across the public services, as well as objective data in standardised form.
May I refer back to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr Dorrell)? I used to advise the Gorbachev Government on glasnost and perestroika, and what was missing then was innovation from the grass roots up. Will my right hon. Friend the Minister therefore say a little more about the extent of the innovation that he is expecting to come from this?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is no point in a system that does not allow genuine innovation. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth West (Conor Burns) rightly made it clear in a previous question that the recent productivity record of the public services has been lamentable; their productivity has not increased commensurately with the increase in investment. Part of the reason for that is lack of innovation. In the most effective services across the world, there is continuous innovation, and that often comes from new small entrants. That is why the thrust of the White Paper is to promote and enlarge the scope for new entrants with new ideas to create innovations and more productive methods of doing things, which will, of course, result in the public’s money being used better in providing the services people want.
It was an interesting statement, but is not the danger that the Government may get a great reputation for reorganising public services rather than actually running them? Why cannot the Government concentrate on the boring, unglamorous job of promoting efficient, accountable management? Indeed, the word “management” was curiously missing from the statement.
My hon. Friend is right in that I cannot recall a single instance in the White Paper of our referring to ourselves as “managing” public services. That is because we do not think Ministers are particularly good at managing things. We think Ministers and Governments are better at creating frameworks within which others, who are professionals, can manage things and be given the incentives to manage them best for those whom they are serving.
During my time working in the hospice movement, I witnessed time and again that the independence of hospices enabled them to provide first-class care, and that parents of children in hospices would often say that they had set the benchmark for the care they had received. Will not the freeing up of public services from the Whitehall grasp enable them to learn from the hospice movement and provide first-class public services in this country?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The hospice movement provides an admirable example of much that is best about public service in our country, and we do, indeed, want to learn from it in many respects. We are, of course, trying to ensure that the method for funding the hospice movement always preserves its independence and ability to carry on providing the unbelievably good service it currently provides.
I am glad to hear the Minister’s commitment to open data in improving public services, but he should beware of handing it over to organisations that treat public information as a commercial asset. Is he aware of the obstacles that Network Rail and train operators raise to thwart volunteers working with real-time train running data, despite their own dependence on public subsidy? Will he demand open access to that data, to promote service innovation?
I welcome the White Paper. As the funding will be following the child, the student and the patient, does my right hon. Friend agree that as well as giving more choice and power, money will be focused where there is real excellence in these sectors?
Yes, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. What we are about is trying to improve public services for all. By giving people choice and power, we enable the money to be focused, as she rightly says, on the places that are seen to be best by the service users, thereby increasing the proportion of public services that are excellent and gradually dragging up the average. Of course we also want to make sure that we do not have any coasting or substandard services, so she will also find that the White Paper contains a series of measures precisely to target providers that are consistently failing or consistently mediocre.
Last Friday, I met representatives of a number of voluntary organisations across the black country. Does the Minister agree that it is precisely those groups that we need to energise to get involved in improving the delivery of public services in my constituency?
I do agree with my hon. Friend. It is vital that we energise the voluntary and community sector now, and the White Paper will show the sector a huge path forward. The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), who has responsibility for civil society and who was here a moment or two ago, will shortly say more to the voluntary sector about the opportunities that the open public services White Paper framework provides for it.
What opportunities will these proposals present to the more than 25 parish and town councils in my constituency to take over public services provided by the borough and county councils, either by themselves or together with other local groups?
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point and he will find in the White Paper that there is precisely the intention to give parish councils and neighbourhood councils, as they arise in places that do not currently have parish councils, much more ability to take over services and run them on behalf of local people. If he would like to discuss how we can take that forward, I am sure that, like me, the Minister of State, Department for Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells (Greg Clark), who has responsibility for decentralisation, would be delighted to discuss that with him.
Phone Hacking and the Media
May I start by apologising to the Leader of the Opposition for the fact that he has only just received a copy of this statement? As he will find out, there was a development only about a half an hour ago that dramatically changed the contents of this statement—I have only just received my own copy—which is why we were not able to get him a copy in advance. [Interruption.]
Mr Speaker, the events of last week shocked the nation. Our proud tradition of journalism, which for centuries has bravely held those in positions of power to account, was shaken by the revelation of what we now know to have happened at the News of the World. The perpetrators of those acts not only broke the law, but preyed on the grief of families who had lost loved ones either as a result of foul murders or giving their life for their country. I hope that the law shows no mercy to those responsible and no mercy to any managers who condoned such appalling behaviour.
As a result of what happened, the Prime Minister last week announced two independent inquiries to examine what went wrong and recommend to the Government how we can make sure that it never happens again. The first will be a full, judge-led, public inquiry into the original police investigation. Witnesses will be questioned under oath and no stone will be left unturned. As the Prime Minister announced on Friday, that inquiry will need to answer the following questions. Why did the first police investigation fail? What exactly was going on at the News of the World, and what was going on at other newspapers? The bulk of the work of this inquiry can be done only after the police investigation has finished, but we will start what we can now.
The second will be a separate inquiry to look at the culture, practices and ethics of the British press. In particular, it will look at how our newspapers are regulated and make recommendations for the future. That inquiry should start as soon as possible, ideally this summer. As the Prime Minister said, a free press is an essential component of our democracy and our way of life, but press freedom does not mean that the press should be above the law, and in announcing this inquiry the Prime Minister has invited views on the way the press should be regulated in the future.
I also have to make a decision about News Corporation’s plans to buy the shares it does not already own in BSkyB. I know that colleagues on both sides of the House and the public at home feel very concerned at the prospect of the organisation that allegedly allowed these terrible things to happen being allowed to take control of what would become Britain’s biggest media company.
I understand that in the last few minutes News Corporation has withdrawn its undertakings in lieu. On 25 January, I said I was minded to refer News Corporation’s proposed merger with BSkyB to the Competition Commission in the absence of any specific undertakings in lieu. As a result of News Corporation’s announcement this afternoon, I am now going to refer this to the Competition Commission with immediate effect and will be writing to it this afternoon—[Interruption.]