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Primary School Places

Volume 570: debated on Monday 11 November 2013

4. What plans he has to ensure an adequate supply of primary school places; and if he will make a statement. (900986)

13. What plans he has to ensure an adequate supply of primary school places; and if he will make a statement. (900995)

We will spend £5 billion by 2015 on creating new school places across the country—more than double the amount spent by the previous Government in the same time frame. We have worked closely with councils on reforms to school place funding so that it is now more accurate than ever before.

Two years ago, Brent had a surplus of primary school places: this year, 614 children are without one. Has the removal of local authorities’ powers to plan and review school places impacted to more damaging effect in any other borough in the country than in Brent, where we now have a 12.5% shortage?

No, the hon. Gentleman has it completely wrong. What has done damage to place planning in large parts of the country is the removal by the last Labour Government of 200,000 primary school places, even after the Office for National Statistics reported the biggest increase in the birth rate since the second world war. I have some figures for the hon. Gentleman about his borough. Basic need funding for Brent in the last four years under Labour was £33.8 million, which I acknowledge is a lot of money. Under this coalition Government that has now risen to £114 million, an increase of 240%.

The Conservative manifesto promised small schools with smaller class sizes. Will the Minister confirm whether, in the last year, the number of infant classes with more than 30 pupils has more than doubled?

Of course the number has gone up, precisely for the reason that I gave: the Lady’s Government took out 200,000 places in primary education, even over a period when for seven years in a row the birth rate was rising. I also have good news for the hon. Lady. During the last four years of her Government, her area had a £3.1 million investment in basic need. Over a comparable period, that figure now is £11.7 million, an increase of 280%. She should be thanking us for that.

I thank the Minister for the recent funding that allowed a significant expansion of primary school places in my constituency. Will he confirm that the Government are spending twice as much on primary school places as the last Government?

I will confirm precisely that. Not only have we allocated £5 billion over this Parliament, more than double the amount that the Labour party allocated over the same period, but my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has succeeded in securing from the Treasury £7.1 billion of capital funding for basic need alone from 2015 to 2021.

In 2001-02, Labour-run Leeds city council forced through a raft of unpopular primary school closures against the wishes of the community. Now, Labour-run Leeds city council is saying that it does not have enough places and that it needs to spend lots of taxpayers’ money building more schools. How can we prevent such appalling planning in the future?

Now we have evidence from the ground, from Leeds, about the exact consequences of the last Labour Government and the mistake that they made by not investing properly in capital. However, I can assure my hon. Friend that the figures for Leeds are these: under the last Labour Government, £15 million over four years for basic need; under this coalition Government, £99.2 million, an increase of 560%.

24. The pressure on primary school places in north-east Leeds is so great that many parents do not even get their fifth choice. What advice would the Minister offer those parents who are forced to send their non-Jewish child to a Jewish primary school and their non-Christian child to a Christian primary school? (901006)

I would advise them to be very angry indeed about the last Government, who failed to invest in basic need. I would invite them to welcome the 560% increase in basic need funding under this Government and to draw the political conclusions from that.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the shortage is the result of two factors: first, the loss of those 200,000 places; and, secondly, the unprecedented population surge resulting from the open borders during the second half of the previous Government’s time in office?

I agree that there has been a significant increase in population in some areas, and the number of places decreased by 220,000 under the previous Labour Government. This coalition Government are now making proper provision right across the country.

18. One of the issues in Corby, which has seen a 25% increase in the number of children in reception and has the highest birth rate in the country, is that we now have more provision through a free school at secondary level, where we already have a surplus of places, but insufficient primary school provision. I ask the Minister—in not too political a way, I hope—to look at that. (901000)

I am very happy to look at any issues the hon. Gentleman wants to raise about his constituency, but I point out that the funding that the Government secures for free schools is in addition to the funding for basic need.

This morning I met the leaders of Tresham college, who have been able to announce a multi-million pound investment in my constituency that will include an education village, part of which will be a new primary school. Labour talked about it, but it never happened. Under this Conservative-led Government it is happening. Is not that a good thing?

It certainly is a good thing that under this coalition Government we are seeing a massive increase in capital expenditure on basic need: £400 million was the pitiful amount spent in the last year of the Labour Government. Between 2013 and 2015 we are spending £2.4 billion.