House of Commons
Monday 1 December 2014
The House met at half-past Two o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
The Secretary of State was asked—
In the autumn and spring of 2009-10, 45.8 million days of school were missed by pupils. By 2013-14, that figure had decreased to 35.7 million, the lowest number since comparable records began. The number of pupils who were persistently absent has also decreased, from 439,000 in 2009-10 to 262,000—again, a record low level. Time off for holidays has also dropped, by about 1.4 million school days, compared with the same period in 2009-10.
I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I also thank the Secretary of State for visiting Nuneaton last Thursday to hold a very positive round-table discussion with local head teachers. Good attendance is the bedrock of improving educational outcomes for our young people. Will my hon. Friend therefore join me in thanking the teachers, head teachers and governors in Warwickshire for the solid improvement in attendance in the past year?
The Secretary of State mentioned to me how much she enjoyed her visit to the George Eliot school in Nuneaton on Thursday and how valuable she found the round-table discussion with the head teachers from Nuneaton and north Warwickshire schools. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) is assiduous in fighting for small businesses and more jobs in his constituency, and that he therefore understands the importance of education. I join him in paying tribute to all the teachers, parents and pupils for their efforts to reduce pupil absences, particularly in Warwickshire, where the number of school days lost owing to absence has fallen from 5.7% in 2009-10 to 4.2% this year. There have been similar falls in persistent absence.
Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to Perry Wood primary school in Worcester? Against a backdrop of falling absence levels in the county, the school has used pupil premium funding to introduce a walking bus and a breakfast club, and it has increased attendance from around 90% two years ago to an average of 96% today.
I pay tribute to the teachers at Perry Wood school for the innovative way in which they have reduced absence there. In fact, I congratulate schools throughout Worcester on improving school attendance. In Worcestershire as a whole, overall absence has dropped by a fifth and persistent absence by almost a quarter since 2009, and I pay tribute to all the teachers, parents and pupils for the work they are doing.
21. Another reason for school absence is that some pupils are young carers who have duties at home. The burden on young carers was shown tellingly in a BBC film called “Looking after Mum”, which was about a young carer who had been caring for her mother—my constituent—who had had a stroke when the child was four years old. What are Ministers doing to ensure that schools have policies in place to identify and support such young carers who have taken on a burden of care from the age of four? (906350)
Schools play an important part in identifying young carers and offering them appropriate support. To assist them in that endeavour, the Department has been working with the Children’s Society and the Carers Trust to share tools and good practice with schools, including a free access e-learning module for school staff. The Department of Health is also training school nurses to support young carers at school.
Careers Education (CBI)
One of my priorities is to ensure that more of our young people are leaving education with the skills to succeed in modern Britain. In October, I hosted a round-table discussion with employers and education sector representatives, including the CBI, on this important issue. We are consulting representatives to examine what further steps we can take to prepare young people for the world of work more effectively, and to ensure that businesses are engaging with schools in meaningful ways.
The CBI business manifesto was published last month. It highlights
“the shameful state of careers provision in English schools”.
It emphasises that girls in particular are losing out, but states that everyone is suffering as a result of what seems to be the virtual collapse of careers education. Why has the situation been allowed to get this bad, and what is the Secretary of State going to do to fix it?
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman; I was particularly struck by the paragraphs about the state of girls’ education and aspirations:
“We’re losing out on the contribution women can make because too many girls at school, college or in the workplace are writing off—or are written off from—particular jobs for no good reason…Choices should not be closed off to anyone, and the full facts about earnings and opportunities need to be available to all, especially women.”
That is why one scheme—there are many others—that this Government are supporting is the Your Life campaign, which is supported by more than 200 leading representatives from businesses, education, civil society and government to show how science and maths can lead to exciting and successful careers.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in impressing on local schools the importance of work experience? Will she also congratulate the York, North Yorkshire & East Riding local enterprise partnership on the work it is doing in placing people on work experience and giving careers guidance, together with local employers?
I thank my hon. Friend for her question. She rightly says that work experience is extremely important, and I pay tribute to the role that LEPs play—both her own and many others across the country. We are working to make the whole education system much more closely linked to the world of work, with more relevant respective qualifications, more emphasis on learning useful skills and greater employer influence over course content.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion and I shall certainly take a look at that. I work closely with the college in my constituency in Loughborough. I will work with any organisations and do anything that will raise the aspirations of our young people and prepare them by giving them the skills they are going to need for life in modern Britain.
When I grew up and went to school in Herefordshire in the 1980s, we had a widespread and comprehensive careers service. That has changed under successive Governments, yet I meet more and more young people who are unsure, post-qualifications, what they want to do with their lives. What can we do to ensure that local and national employers, particularly Her Majesty’s armed forces, get access to schools?
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend says. At the base of his question is the point that there is no such thing as a career for life any more and that we are all going to have to think about the skills we need to take the first job and then the next job, be it in the armed services, the public services, in business or through being self-employed. There are many examples of excellent schemes across the country where businesses and schools are working together, and our task is to make sure that that good practice is replicated throughout the country.
Quality careers advice is essential to support young people in making the right choice, be it academic or vocational. However, recent figures on youth apprenticeships confirm the concerns we have been raising for some time that Government policy is damaging the apprenticeship brand and leaving young people behind. My hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey) is right to call out the Government on their failure to deliver for young people. Will the Minister explain why they have failed to deliver on apprenticeships as a quality route for young people entering the work force?
That is an extremely disappointing question because it bears absolutely no relation to the facts. We have the lowest number of NEETs—those not in education, employment or training—ever on record; and we have more 16 to 18-year-olds starting apprenticeships. The hon. Lady should not be talking down our young people and their opportunities—she should be talking them up. Our young people are learning fantastic skills. I do agree with her that the links between vocational and academic education should be treated completely equally. That is exactly what this Government have done with the delivery of almost 2 million more apprenticeships.
Under this Government we have seen record numbers taking STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and maths—with maths now being the most popular A-level. That is due to excellent teaching and several supporting programmes, but of course more needs to be done. We have reformed qualifications and the curriculum; we are recruiting top graduates into teaching with increased bursaries and scholarships; we have established maths hubs; and, as I have mentioned, we have the Your Life campaign to change young people’s perceptions of science and mathematics.
My hon. Friend is right. I have previously said from this Dispatch Box that the estimates are that we need 83,000 more engineers every year for the next 10 years, and I have also said that they cannot all be male. That is why campaigns such as Your Life and other things such as tomorrow’s engineers week, which the Government are already supporting, are extremely important. I continue to look at all the best ways that businesses, schools and educators can work together to make sure that our young people are prepared for life in modern Britain.
The Secretary of State is aware that the earlier we can start loving numeracy, the better—it is so important. She was not there, but only last week one of her junior Ministers was with me, the hon. Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage) and Johnny Ball to launch the early years numeracy strategy that came out of our all-party group. Will the Secretary of State put a bit of muscle behind that?
Well, I’ll think of a number! The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that this Government will put their weight behind the campaign to get more of our young people studying maths subjects and studying them to a higher level. We have already introduced the maths hubs, and are supporting teacher exchange programmes with places such as Shanghai, which are already leading the way in maths education. We are seeing more of our young people doing better at maths earlier, and, as the hon. Gentleman says, that is absolutely critical.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that Fiona Kendrick, chief executive officer of Nestlé in my constituency, is providing inspirational leadership? She is leading the campaign to get more science, technology, engineering and maths into schools so that more young people, especially young women, can enter the fields of engineering and technology. Such an inspirational change will improve the quality of education in this country.
I agree with my hon. Friend and welcome Fiona Kendrick’s comments on the need to bridge the gap between education and employment and the need for industry to play its part. I think I was with my hon. Friend when I visited Bombardier, which is also in her constituency, and met the fabulous Kirsten, who is doing incredibly well as an apprentice welder.
It may be a “Blue Peter” link to say that I was at primary school in Heston with Zoë Ball. Very recently, I was talking to Heston residents about the opportunities for young people in the local economy, which is full of light industry. Exposure to the world of work at a young age makes a huge difference to confidence. What is the Secretary of State doing to improve work experience opportunities for under-16s in science, technology and maths subjects?
I agree that work experience is extremely important, and I should like it applied to pupils as young as possible. As a first step, I would like young people to get advice about the jobs that are out there—I am talking about labour market information. But if the hon. Lady’s Government had not introduced so much red tape and so many health and safety regulations, employers might not be so put off taking on people for work experience.
School Nursery Classes
Nurseries in schools are at the heart of our plans to offer flexible, affordable and high-quality child care. To deliver on that plan, we are removing the red tape that stands in the way of schools offering provision to two-year-olds. We have also invested £100 million in early years child care places, of which a third are being created in schools. We are allowing child minders to offer wrap-around care in schools, and championing calibration between schools and private, voluntary and independent nurseries.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply. Keeping a child in the same school when they transition from nursery to primary school is in the best interests of the child and indeed the school. Although I welcome steps to examine moves towards amending admissions codes for the most disadvantaged, may I urge him to keep an open mind about widening this policy right across nursery schools?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. In many cases, parents want their children to continue into reception year in the school in which they attended nursery, but that should not come at the expense of parents who, for whatever reason, choose different early years provision for their children. As my hon. Friend mentioned, we are amending the admissions code for the most disadvantaged pupils. Of course I always keep an open mind, and we will keep this matter under review and consider it later.
One of the best ways of extending nursery provision is to have supportive chairs and boards of governors. Many schools find it very difficult to find governors, and many are paying them. May I ask the Minister what his personal—not his departmental—opinion is on the principle of paying school governors? By the way—interest declared!
The hon. Gentleman is asking about the payment of governors in the early years sector. As he is aware, the early years sector is very diverse. Child minders and PVI nurseries do not have school governors. Some maintained nurseries do, but they do not have to pay them.
There will continue to be a shortage of nursery class places until we address the issue of pay for nursery school staff. Top bankers’ pay went up by 7% last year, and that of those working in nursery schools by barely more than 1%. What will the Minister do about that?
I welcome the hon. Lady to her post, but I do not agree with the numbers she cites. In fact, the pay of nursery staff has gone up, according to independent statistics. More important, most of the provision is in the private sector. The Government cannot prescribe wages for people in the private sector, but we can cut taxes so that people can keep more of what they earn, and that is why we have raised the personal allowance to £10,000.
Nothing is more important than keeping children safe. To better protect missing children, we have introduced tougher statutory guidance and regulations, improved national data collection and published new practice standards for social workers. Ofsted has found that many, but not enough, local authorities are making progress, so we will continue to establish where that is not happening, and why, and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure children’s safety.
A recent Ofsted report entitled “The sexual exploitation of children: it couldn’t happen here, could it?” said that most local authorities inspected are not making the connection between child sexual exploitation and children missing from school. Does the Minister agree that every local authority should keep a centrally held persistent absence list that could be cross-referenced by police and children’s services to identify children at risk and patterns of local child sexual exploitation?
I begin by thanking the hon. Lady and acknowledging the significant and important contribution she has made over a long period, and more recently through her report “Real Voices” on child exploitation in Greater Manchester. It poses many of the right questions, as she has this afternoon. I agree that it is absolutely right not only that all schools must inform the local authority of pupils who are missing education but that local authorities must identify pupils missing from school and take action as a result. Those duties already exist and Ofsted’s thematic review made it clear that in many cases that was not happening because of very basic practice failures across a range of agencies and organisations. The number of persistently absent children has dropped by 40% since 2010, but we need to highlight even more those children who are particularly vulnerable for the reasons the hon. Lady has outlined. I know I have a meeting with her in a week or two to discuss these matters further and I look forward to having a conversation to see what progress we can make.
Does the Minister agree that protecting children from sexual exploitation must include better education of children and parents on the potential dangers of the internet? To that end, will he praise the work of Warning Zone in Leicestershire?
I agree that in the new digital age, when children come into contact with the internet at an ever younger age, we need to ensure that they have the understanding and skills to make good choices. Part of that is ensuring that parents and teachers can acquire those abilities. That is why we have ensured that internet safety is taught at all key stages at school, and I am sure that the work that has gone on on the ground—not just in his constituency, although I praise that, but throughout the country—is helping to ensure that we get that message across.
I, too, thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) for her excellent report “Real Voices” and, in particular, for the consideration she has given to the voice of these young people. Her recommendations have a significance way beyond Greater Manchester. Anyone who reads the report cannot fail to be struck by the repeated references to the benefit that many of these vulnerable young people derive from working with peer mentors. Does the Minister share Labour’s interest in this approach, and does he have any plans to develop the model? Has he considered using the innovation fund as a means of stimulating it?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s insight, analysis and recommendations as to what more we can do to ensure that children who need their voice to be heard have the requisite support from people who can provide them with the guidance and trust that are often lacking among other professionals. I am happy to talk to him about his suggestion. We have had some extremely exciting bids in this area through the innovation fund programme, which I will be able to say more about in the coming weeks. As I say, I shall be more than happy to discuss the subject with him in due course.
Somerset county council has withdrawn regular checks on children educated at home, stating that it will contact families only if it is
“advised that Elective Home Education is not happening or is unsuitable.”
Does the Minister recognise that it is necessary to check systematically so that children at risk are identified, along with parents and carers who need support to deliver education, because otherwise school is often the only place where children at risk can have contact with other adults?
The hon. Lady refers to the recent Ofsted inspection in Somerset and the need for Somerset’s children’s services to make marked improvements in its response to ensure that children are safe. The example she has given is an element of that on which it needs to improve. I will not comment on the specific work that needs to be done, which has been well documented. She knows, as do her colleagues across Somerset, that I am determined to do whatever it takes to ensure the children in Somerset get the support and care they need so that they have a safe and fulfilling upbringing.
School Leaders (Recruitment)
From 2015 the Government-funded Talented Leaders programme will match up to 100 excellent leaders with challenging schools, including in Norfolk. We also fund the charity Future Leaders to develop the leadership skills of aspirant head teachers.
I welcome the extension of the Talented Leaders programme to Norfolk. Excellent leadership is vital, and turning around a struggling school needs a team effort, with teachers, governors and parents all pulling in the same direction. What efforts will be made to ensure that the Talented Leaders programme supports a whole-school approach?
My hon. Friend is exactly right that we need not only to get talented head teachers and leaders into those schools, but to ensure that other members of the school community are part of that. That is why, under this programme, each school will be entitled to a leadership sustainability grant of £50,000, which is ring-fenced for staff and governor development in order to build leadership capacity for the future.
For the third year running the Government have missed their teacher recruitment targets. For example, only 67% of physics places have been filled—the figures are 88% for maths and 44% for design and technology. Does the Minister accept that the teacher recruitment crisis is leading to real problems in key subjects and in leadership roles right across the country?
We certainly accept that for some time now there have been challenges when recruiting to some of the core subjects, including some of the core scientific subjects, and that is why we have significantly increased the bursaries available in those areas. However, we should also acknowledge the great successes there have been in recent years in getting more outstanding graduates into the teaching profession, and we will do more of that in future.
Some of our country’s best leaders can be found in Her Majesty’s armed forces. What success are we having in recruiting former soldiers, sailors and airmen to become teachers in our schools, and what success are we achieving in getting more male teachers into primary schools?
My hon. Friend is right on both points. The latest statistics show that we are having more success in recruiting male teachers into primary schools. We are also doing more, through our Troops to Teachers programme, to use the talents of many people who have served our country in the armed forces and can now serve our education system, too.
Will the Minister join me in congratulating the leadership of Wellfield community school in my constituency, under head teacher Linda Rodham, on improving the school’s Ofsted rating from poor to good in four terms, and on the improvements we are seeing in qualifications year on year? Does that not prove that there is no smell of defeatism in the schools of east Durham?
I am delighted to hear about the success of that school in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. I hope that other schools in the region, and in those regions where there has been underperformance, will look at was has been done there and realise that there is nothing inevitable about failure in any part of the country.
Many maintained nursery schools are delivering high-quality early education, often in disadvantaged areas where that provision can make the greatest difference. Our aim is to improve parent access to high-quality early-years provision, enable a diverse market and ensure that nurseries are part of that market. However, the current legislation does not allow maintained nursery schools to become academies, but we will keep that under review.
I welcome the Minister’s response—or I think I do—that this is going to be kept under review. Too many maintained nursery schools—centres of excellence anchored, for the most part, in the poorest communities in the country—have been lost under successive Governments. Would not academy status give them the opportunity to ensure that they continue to help the Government in raising standards for all and, most importantly, closing the gap between outcomes for rich and poor?
I welcome the enthusiasm of the Chairman of the Education Committee for maintained nurseries. I have visited Pen Green maintained nursery in Corby, which is an excellent example. He mentioned harnessing their quality. We have invested £5.5 million in teaching schools so that maintained nurseries can spearhead this and help to spread quality across the sector. He is right to indicate that 4,000 schools have benefited from academy status. As I said, we will keep the situation under review as opportunities arise to reconsider the legislative framework for maintained nurseries.
Many nursery schools would like to become co-operatives but, by law, they are not currently allowed to do so. I welcome the Secretary of State’s interest in this area. May I press the Minister on allowing for an amendment to be made to the Deregulation Bill? That could happen very quickly and it would allow nurseries to join other schools in becoming co-operatives.
Public benefit tests are a matter for the Charity Commission. Schools in the independent sector make a significant contribution to the UK economy estimated at £9.5 billion per annum. Many have partnerships with state schools to share resources and teachers, drawing on the strengths of each member school to improve outcomes for all children across the partnership. One example is the Wimbledon schools partnership between King’s College school and over 20 state schools. Independent schools also act as academy sponsors, and 11 have been approved to do so.
Sir Michael Wilshaw and I have had a number of discussions on many different subjects, including this one. I point out to the hon. Gentleman, as I would to all Labour Members, that this is happening already. We would like more partnerships to be growing, but there are already plenty of partnerships and collaborations between state and private schools. I wonder whether he would agree with Andrew Halls, the headmaster of King’s College school in Wimbledon, who recently said:
“The independent schools are under a bit more threat than we’ve been for a long time. The state sector has really improved.”
That is what happens with four years of a coalition Government.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one element that lies behind the debate on the public benefit of private schools is the need to ensure that pupils in the state sector have an ever-increasing chance of receiving the best academic education? Does she also agree that grammar schools play a significant role in providing this opportunity and that their work across the country should be suitably valued?
At the heart of what my right hon. Friend is asking—I completely agree with it—is that we want every child in this country to go to a good or outstanding local school. I welcome diversity in our schools system. I also welcome the fact that, after four years of this Government, over 800,000—heading towards 1 million—more children are in good or outstanding schools receiving a life-transforming education to prepare them for a life in modern Britain.
A prep school in Hampshire that claims £180,000 tax relief just for showing its pupils’ art work on the walls; a ladies college in Yorkshire that claims £110,000 tax relief a year while profiting from renting out school facilities: enough is enough. Will the Secretary of State now join Anthony Seldon of Wellington college, head teachers at the United Learning trust and the majority of the British people in supporting Labour’s plans to break down the barriers in English education and require private schools to work alongside state schools to share best practice and raise attainment across the country?
The hon. Gentleman appears to have answered his own question—in fact, his own policy—by pointing out the successful collaborative partnerships between private schools and state schools going on across the country. His previous school has decided that it will not be building any buildings or unveiling any statues to the hon. Gentleman any time soon. He ought to think about the Labour Uncut website, which said:
“It is not so much that Tristram Hunt has the wrong policies for education; it is that he appears to have none.”
Last week’s announcement has not changed that.
This is the politics of the status quo. Once upon a time the Prime Minister said—[Interruption.] I thought Members on the Government Benches would want to listen to their Prime Minister. He said he wanted to end the “educational apartheid” between private and state schools. Now we have a Secretary of State afraid to take on the vested interests, happy to allow £140 million of tax relief a year without demanding partnership and progress. Is this a principled stand against our policy or, like her flip-flopping opposition to gay marriage, is she just waiting for more people to get in touch before she changes her mind?
The hon. Gentleman has shown yet again by his question that he has no vision or plan for education in this country. He would be letting down the children of this country were he ever to be allowed anywhere near the Department for Education. In a recent GQ Magazine interview he said:
“But what I have found challenging is that you can be so busy without achieving much, meeting upon meeting and then I think, ‘Where is the outcome? What have I achieved?’ Sometimes you can tick boxes but not feel you have made progress.”
That, so far, is the story of Labour’s education policy.
Does the Secretary of State agree that there are outstanding private schools throughout the country, such as University College school in Hampstead and St Mary’s school in Calne in my constituency, which make a gigantic contribution to the local society, but nearly always under the radar, nearly always by secret means and through a thousand different links across the community? Those could never be judged or counted by any organisation; they are none the less to be encouraged.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. The issue with the recent policy announcement is that much of the collaboration and partnership between schools, whether private and state or within state schools, is already happening. I have already mentioned that 11 independent schools were approved as academy sponsors. Last month we announced that 18 new primary independent/state school partnerships had been awarded DFE funding, so this is already happening. As usual, Labour is late to the party with zero policy.
Priority School Building Programme
I draw to my right hon. Friend’s attention the excellent applications from Humphry Davy school and Helston community college in my constituency. The successful applicants will be anxious to know how quickly they can crack on with their rebuilding projects and by what date they will need to complete them. Will the Minister elaborate on that?
My hon. Friend is a great champion of all the schools in his constituency and has been lobbying very hard indeed, as I am well aware, for the two schools that he names. I can assure him that we are processing these bids as rapidly as possible and that we will announce the successful schools in January. That will allow the project to move ahead as soon as possible.
The previous Secretary of State, when he visited Todmorden and Calder high schools in the Calder Valley, said that they were among the worst that he had seen in England, but they never qualified for rebuilding under Building Schools for the Future because they attained too highly and did not have deprivation. Can the Minister confirm that under the Priority School Building programme, the criteria of attainment and deprivation have been scrapped and that schools that are dilapidated stand a chance of being rebuilt?
I can confirm that. It is right that such a programme should look at the condition of all schools and prioritise those that are in most need of help, rather than targeting either attainment or deprivation. I am aware that there are a number of bids from schools in my hon. Friend’s constituency. We will look at those closely and announce the results in January.
Will the Minister give a higher priority to schools in areas where the number of pupils is increasing hugely year on year? In our areas, the amount of money available to spend per pupil is squeezed down because the numbers are counted in October one year, but the number of pupils in the following 12 months increases exponentially.
I think I have good news for the hon. Lady, because not only have this Government been considerably more generous than our predecessors in the allocation of basic need funding for our school system, but we are now allocating basic need funding for new school places for three years. In January, we will make another announcement of funding for basic need for 2017-18.
The performance of free schools is continually reviewed as more and more are inspected by Ofsted. Based on the inspections undertaken so far, the majority of free schools are performing well. With 24% rated outstanding, they are more likely to be rated outstanding than other state-funded schools.
In Weaver Vale, I am proud to have worked with the founders of the Sandymoor free school, which has grown from strength to strength since it opened in 2012. Will my hon. Friend join me in applauding the school’s achievements, including its first Ofsted report as a good school with outstanding leadership?
I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the governors—I understand that he is one—and the staff at Sandymoor school. The school’s motto is “Ordinary people. Extraordinary achievements.” That is right in one respect, in that it is extraordinary to secure a good grading from Ofsted within the first two years of opening a new school, but there is nothing ordinary about the head teacher, Andrew Green-Howard, or his staff at a school where, to quote Ofsted, the
“majority of students are meeting or exceeding…ambitious targets…in mathematics, English and science”,
and behaviour “is very impressive.”
May I, through the Minister, thank the Secretary of State and the Minister for free schools, Lord Nash, for their visit to the Falcons school in Leicester? I know that they enjoyed their visit. We were disappointed not to see the Minister there as well. I know that, apart from the education provided, the Secretary of State particularly liked the vegetable samosas that the children had made for her. Does the Minister agree not only that the Falcons school is the first Sikh school in Leicester, but that it has a first-class future?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his praise of the Falcons school. I wish I had been there: I am a great fan of vegetable samosas, but I am more of a fan of free schools of whatever faith that provide high-quality schools and high-quality education up and down the country.
23.  I have championed the New College bid for a new free school in North Swindon, which would help to deliver much needed high-quality school places in my growing constituency. Will the Minister comment on the importance of local groups coming together to set up free schools?
I thank New College and other proposers that have submitted free school applications for their hard work and commitment. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work and support for the New College bid. Free schools are giving local communities and teachers the freedom to come together and establish new high-quality schools that are raising academic standards. We are currently assessing all wave 8 applications against the published criteria, and we will soon write to applicants to notify them whether they have been selected for interview.
We are constantly told that free schools are outperforming all other maintained schools. Will the Minister comment on his own Department’s admission that not only have a very small number of free schools actually been inspected, but that the
“findings cannot be interpreted as a balanced view of the quality of education nationally”?
Of course, many of the schools have only just opened—they have been open for only one year or two years—and not all of them have yet been inspected. However, many have been inspected, and 24% of free schools inspected have been judged outstanding. That is under the tougher framework that Ofsted now applies. The rate is higher than for schools as a whole.
14. What steps she is taking to ensure that local authorities recruit and retain an adequate number of qualified children and family social workers. (906343)
Since 2010, we have invested more than £0.5 billion in social worker training and improvement. The number of registered children and family social workers has risen to 24,845. Programmes such as Step Up to Social Work, the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment and, more recently, Frontline are all righty focused on bringing high-quality people into social work to improve the retention and status of social workers and, most importantly, the outcomes for children.
I am grateful to the Minister for highlighting the need to attract more people into social work in the difficult area of child protection, but is it not important for councils to strike the right balance between newly qualified social workers and experienced staff? If we expect newly qualified social workers to carry too high a case load and we do not provide the right support, that will not only damage retention, but have a negative impact on vulnerable children. What will he do to address that further?
I agree with the hon. Lady. It is important that newly qualified social workers get as much support as possible when we bring them into the profession, so that they see it as a legitimate career to remain in and so that too many of them do not leave it too soon. That is why the chief social worker, Isabelle Trowler, recently proposed an approved child and family practitioner accredited status, and said that we must ensure that we have accredited supervisors and a practice leader in all children’s services to lead practice from the front. On top of that, there has been better collaboration across the local authorities in areas such as the north-east, where the hon. Lady’s constituency is based, to look at social worker need in the region and keep vacancy rates as low as possible.
Frontline and Step Up unashamedly attract the brightest and best graduates into social work, making them very much the Teach First of social work. They have been extremely successful, with 25 people applying for every place in Frontline. We have just announced the fourth cohort of Step Up to Social Work for January 2016 and we are supporting a third year of Frontline. That will ensure that high-quality graduates go into social work and will be its future leaders. It will also help to improve the status of social work across the country.
I am not sure whether the Minister has seen the figures for Bradford. If he has, he will know why I am asking this question. Recently, the Prime Minister said that
“there is no doubt that some communities face particular pressures… I think a fund that can more directly help those communities would be very worthwhile and that is what we are going to put in our manifesto”.
If there is a need right now, why should the money not be made available right now?
I would be very happy to talk to my hon. Friend about this matter. In 2014-15, Bradford local authority allocated almost £1 million to schools that experienced high in-year fluctuations in pupil numbers. In addition, it allocated £1.7 million to help schools provide new places to cope with population growth. In January, we will allocate further basic need funding across the country.
Academies and Maintained Schools (Oversight)
18. What recent representations she has received on the National Audit Office’s report, “Academies and maintained schools: oversight and intervention”, published on 30th October 2014, HC 721; and if she will make a statement. (906347)
I have received no representations on the National Audit Office’s report. The Department will reply to any recommendations the Public Accounts Committee makes in due course.
We do not agree with that assessment. The report is factually accurate, but we do not believe that the interpretation the NAO has put on the facts is correct. The oversight of our schools is very clear: the oversight of academies is very clear, the oversight of maintained schools by local authorities is very clear, and the oversight by Ofsted is very clear. We are seeing a rise in academic standards across maintained schools and across academies and free schools in this country.
On Friday evening, I attended the Social Worker of the Year awards, which is an inspiring occasion that recognises the work of many in the profession. I thank them for the warm welcome that they gave me and my team. Last week, the early years foundation stage results showed an increase in the number of children reaching the expected levels, which is an important step in ensuring that more children are ready for learning. I also welcome the recent figures that showed a drop in bullying. That is an important priority for me. We recently invested more resources in supporting schools to tackle bullying, including £2 million to help schools address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender bullying.
Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the opening of a university technical college in my constituency, which is the first of its kind in Kent? Such colleges are a fantastic innovation that help to satisfy the increasing demand for skilled engineers and scientists. The UTC will add to the diverse range of educational establishments that is available in my Dartford constituency.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning Leigh university technical college, and I am delighted that young people in his Dartford constituency now have the opportunity to attend a UTC. They are an important part of our education plan to ensure that young people leave school well educated and, as he said, well prepared for careers such as those in engineering.
Recruitment for initial teacher training was 108% against target in 2010, but it is now down to just 93%. Head teachers are having to travel abroad to recruit, and the chairman of the teacher training advisory group has warned that places such as Dover, Great Yarmouth and Blackpool will be at the back of the queue for teachers. We warned that that would happen, but there has been nothing but cold complacency from Ministers. I think it is one of the only policies that the Liberal Democrat Minister for Schools still agrees with. When will he get a grip on it?
I am sure that the Minister for Schools can answer for himself, but I doubt that that is the only policy he agrees with. Some 32,543 trainee teachers started undergraduate or postgraduate initial teacher training in 2014-15—236 fewer than last year. The shadow Minister might want to reflect on the fact that one reason more teachers are attracted to the profession is the recovering economy, yet the legacy that his Government left us was a weak economy. We want to make teaching an attractive profession. It is already highly respected, but it will be less attractive given the shadow Education Minister’s proposals to make all teachers swear an oath, which I think was met with universal derision.
T3. My right hon. Friend has a strong commitment to teacher training. Will he join me in supporting a Fens teaching and learning centre based in Wisbech that will support not just north Cambridgeshire but also west Norfolk and south Lincolnshire, and help with retention, recruitment and talent management? (906320)
I am happy to welcome that and to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that proposal. He will know that in the year ahead, as a consequence of representations from him and other hon. Members from Cambridgeshire, we are increasing funding for Cambridgeshire schools by 8%, or £23 million. That will certainly help with the recruitment problems and issues that he mentions.
T5. My constituent, Julia, came to talk to me about the plight of supply teachers who are now paid considerably less than the classroom teachers they cover, despite needing a wide range of skills and the ability to adapt quickly. What will the Minister do to regulate supply teacher companies to ensure that schools and teachers are not being ripped off? (906323)
We are not intending to over-regulate that sector, but I agree that we must ensure a proper deal for supply teachers. They form an important part of the school system, and the flexibility and freedom that we are giving schools to run their own recruitment, as well as additional resources through the pupil premium, are allowing schools to tackle those problems.
T4. Some Labour councils are frustrating the growth of primary free schools by building annexes to local education authority schools, even though they may be miles from the secondary school, which often means that a less rigorous process is followed to establish the new school. Will the Minister look into the matter, and would he welcome examples of where it is happening? (906321)
I would be happy to look into that. The hon. Gentleman will know that we allocate basic need and maintenance money directly to local authorities, and the free schools programme is managed directly from our Department. If he wishes to provide me with examples of this issue, I will happily look into them.
T7. The decision by the Education Funding Agency to halt the move by Academies Enterprise Trust to privatise a range of academy services from teaching assistants to ground maintenance in one huge £400 million contract, has been welcomed by schools, trade unions and staff, many of whom saw it as a mechanism to drive down wages and reduce other terms and conditions. I am grateful to the Secretary of State for her personal intervention, but will she outline what advice she has given to academy chains such as AET about the need to concentrate on the poor performance of many of those schools, rather than on partnerships that drive money away from our children? (906327)
Academy chains want to find efficient ways of providing back office services, but the hon. Gentleman is right to say that chains that are under performing, including the AET chain, are receiving the close scrutiny of the Minister responsible.
T6. With the advent of the new curriculum, the Government have moved away from a nationally recognised, standardised system based on levels, and schools are now free to choose from myriad different assessment frameworks. Is the Minister confident that consistency will be maintained, and what work is being done to ensure that all frameworks are fit for purpose? (906324)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. The old system of levels was flawed. It merely gave the illusion of consistency. In reality, the standard of a particular level varied from school to school. The national curriculum, on the other hand, sets out very clear expectations for each key stage. The national curriculum tests in reading, maths, grammar, punctuation and spelling at the end of key stage 2 will tell pupils’ parents and teachers how children are performing against very clear expectations.
I draw the attention of the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The logistics sector is probably, if one takes all elements of it, the biggest industry in the UK, yet all too often children in our schools have no knowledge of the career opportunities in that sector. What will the Government do to ensure that children in our schools get to know about the sector, the fantastic careers available to them and the fact that in some ways it could almost offer a job for life?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s question. He was not here for the first bit of Question Time, but I am delighted he has turned up for the second bit—otherwise I was not going to get an outing at all. It is very important that young people understand the opportunities available in the logistics sector. The National Careers Service now has specific allocation to ensure that it does more work with schools. In any area of the country like his, where the logistics sector is vital, it should contact schools directly to seek opportunities. Schools are often crying out for employers who are willing to come in and talk to young people about the opportunities they can offer.
Schools’ efforts have ensured the successful launch of universal free school meals. In Chippenham, Redlands primary school is bidding for a kitchen pod so it can begin to serve hot lunches, and at Holt primary school lunches are served from the staff room, which is also where the washing up is done. Will the Minister look favourably on those schools, and other growing schools, that lost their kitchens long before we introduced free school meals?
I will certainly look further at this issue and at the particular schools my hon. Friend mentions. He will know that we have recently allocated a further £25 million for school kitchen and dining room improvement to allow us to tackle the neglect of school kitchens and dining halls, which has gone on for too long. I will look very closely at the bids he mentions.
Will the Minister, for the benefit of the House, enlighten us as to which independent statistics he prayed in aid in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern)? My hon. Friend was using statistics from November this year produced by the Office for National Statistics’ annual earnings survey.
I will be happy to write to the hon. Lady with the answer.
Last week, a primary school in my constituency at Middle Rasen was marked down from “outstanding” by Ofsted for being too British. That follows other faith schools that have been marked down because they are falling foul of the Secretary of State’s new British values. Let us be honest: not a single traditional Catholic or Anglican school preaches intolerance in this country. When will the Secretary of State take action to ensure that we have freedom of faith in our faith schools?
My hon. Friend will know, if he has read the Ofsted report carefully, that the school was marked as “good” right across all the categories on which Ofsted marks, not just on the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education that the school provides to all its pupils. He will also know that the requirements on schools to actively promote fundamental British values, to teach a broad and balanced curriculum and to have regard to the spiritual, moral, social and cultural education given to their children, have been long in the drafting. They have, of course, come into sharper relief since the events in Birmingham. I agree with him that all good schools—including all faith schools, of which I am a huge supporter, and Church schools—already do a huge amount to teach their young pupils about life in modern Britain. We want all pupils to have mutual respect and tolerance for each other and for people of all faiths.
The Minister knows that the number of children put forward for adoption has halved in the past year. The Government’s unrealistic time scales have meant that social workers are left with no option but to hold off issuing care proceedings, resulting in a logjam in social services departments and, in some cases, increasing delays for children. Will the Minister accept responsibility for this situation and urgently reconsider this ill-thought-out policy?
That is simply not true. We have seen a record rise of 60% in the number of adoptions under this Government. On the back of the judgment in RE B-S, there has been a misinterpretation of the law, but the law on adoption has not changed. We are prepared to do everything we can for all those children whose plan is for adoption, who still await care as we sit here and who still endure the delays and unfortunate practices preventing them from getting into loving, permanent, stable family homes. We will do everything we can to get rid of those delays and give them the best possible start in life, which is exactly what they deserve.
May I press the Secretary of State on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh)? In its report, Ofsted marked down Middle Rasen school because:
“Pupils’ cultural development is limited by a lack of first-hand experience of the diverse make up of modern British society.”
Do the Government really think that that should be a factor in determining whether a school is outstanding? Most people in this country think it is a load of politically correct nonsense.
I have great respect for my hon. Friend, but on this occasion I am afraid I have to disagree with him. I think that what most parents in this country want is that their young children and students should receive a broad and balanced curriculum, to be prepared for life in modern Britain and have their horizons broadened, not for doors to be closed. That is exactly what we are looking for in all schools. The difficulty with his point is the assumption that children at that school will never leave Lincolnshire, which I do not think is the case.
Today’s report by the Children’s Commissioner for England has highlighted the increasing gap between rich and poor families and its effect on children. It states that in spite of measures such as universal free school meals for infants, the Government are failing to meet their commitment under the UN convention on the rights of the child, particularly to protect the most disadvantaged children. Does the Secretary of State regret the decisions of the Government that have led to such a damning report?
I will take a close look at the report, but what I most welcome is the fact that this Government have spent billions of pounds on the pupil premium, which schools are using and spending to raise educational attainment. We have seen the gap between the poorest and richest pupils narrowing as a result of the Government’s policies.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s decision to award an additional £300,000 to Burnage academy for boys, reflecting an increase of nearly 100 extra pupils in-year. May I urge him, however, to bring forward a change to the funding formula to ensure that schools that suffer from dramatic changes in numbers in-year do not have to keep coming begging to the Government?
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the very strong case he made for this school at the end of last week. As a consequence, this morning we approved popular growth funding of almost £300,000 for the school. It is particularly important to award such funding where the change in pupil numbers is due to popular growth changes, and I will look more widely at the points he raises.
What sort of spell has the Secretary of State cast on her Front-Bench team? I have never seen a bunch of numpties with such a lack of vision and passion. I went to five schools in my constituency on Friday. They are crying out for new teachers. They cannot recruit. What will she do about that?
Road Investment Strategy
I would like to make a statement about our plan to invest £15 billion in England’s strategic road network. It is a new, five-year funded plan, backed by significant reform to make sure that it will happen.
New schemes and new action, set out in one investment plan for the first time ever—this is a fundamental change for the better, and we need it because the strategic road network is the backbone of our economy and our way of life. Whether people drive or cycle, or travel by bus and coach, it matters; when people buy goods from the shops or travel to work, it matters. The strategic road network needs to work well and it needs to improve. It carries a third of all traffic and two thirds of all freight, and it is busier than ever. Motorway traffic has increased by almost 50% in the last 20 years. Traffic across the entire road network has doubled since 1976, and we have not invested enough to cope with this growth. Our motorway network has hardly expanded since the 1990s. Our trunk A roads are often of variable quality and are running at capacity. Forecasts show that traffic will continue to grow and the problems will get worse.
This Government are responding. We have started construction on 20 major schemes, six of which are finished already—schemes that will add over 300 miles of new lanes to our strategic road network—and we have also committed to major new investments, such as the £1.5 billion in improvements to the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, but this is just the start. Today I am pleased to set out details of a much bigger plan, which will hugely improve our strategic network in all parts of England—an ambitious, funded and achievable plan.
In shaping the plan the Government have kept three things in mind: first, that action on our roads must be just one part of a much wider commitment to improving our transport infrastructure. We already have a five-year investment plan for our railways, which will see £38 billion spent on improvements and maintenance by 2019. We have also supported work on a northern powerhouse, with faster rail links across the Pennines, so I do not see better roads as an alternative to investment in rail, airports or ports. They are part of the same thing: building a transport network that is reliable and fast.
Secondly, we have to keep in mind changing technologies. Our road network as it stands today was designed for the vehicles and standards of the ’60s and ’70s, but new fuels and new digital systems offer immense opportunities in the years to come and we must be ready to take them. Already, smart motorways offer a big increase in capacity, and Britain is becoming a world leader in low-carbon technologies, including through the £500 million of Government backing for low-emission vehicles, so it is right that we continue to invest in the network for the future, not just rely on the one we have today.
Thirdly, we must make sure that investment in our road network improves lives and the environment and does not harm them. That means schemes that are thought through and that address long-standing problems such as the essential new tunnel at Stonehenge, which will both extend the dual-lane running on the congested A303 and massively improve the situation of the world’s most famous prehistoric monument. It also means that as we develop our strategic road network, we must make sure it serves the needs of every user, for example by cycle-proofing new sections and making the £100 million investment in better cycling routes across 200 priority locations that we announced last week.
To do all that we need to reform. Until now, the Highways Agency has been hamstrung by annual budgets, which have made a mockery of long-term planning. It has been inefficient and has held our roads back. That is going to change. The Infrastructure Bill now before Parliament aims to create a new Government-owned company to improve and operate the network, with a watchdog to make sure that motorists get what they have been promised, and it is backed by a five-year funding settlement already announced by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. This will see investment in enhancements to the strategic roads network triple by the end of the next Parliament to £3 billion a year.
That is why the Government can proudly say that we are on the driver’s side, and in today’s road investment strategy we have the proof—in total, 84 new schemes, more than 1,300 miles of new lanes, including 23 new sections of dual carriageway, 400 new miles of lanes on our motorways, junctions that work, bottlenecks unblocked and jams cleared. In addition, Members have contributed to the work of the six feasibility studies launched last year to find solutions to particular challenges. This has been a valuable process and has helped to shape the road investment strategy. I am pleased to say that we have not just been able to act on some of the feasibility studies, but that we are acting on all of them.
Let me now set out in some detail what will happen, starting with the south-west, a region whose vital transport links have been neglected, but under this Government they will not be left behind. Today I can announce that as a result of the A303 feasibility study we will bring motorway-quality journeys to this key route. This will be a £2 billion investment, starting with a 1.8 mile tunnel where the road passes Stonehenge. It is part of over six miles of new dual carriageway between Amesbury and Berwick down, and there will be three miles of new dual carriageway between Sparkford and Ilchester. That will be followed by further work, including linking the A303 to the M5 at Taunton with a new dualled section. Also in the south-west, we are upgrading the A30 between Chiverton and Carland Cross. This will extend the express route to Camborne from the M5.
Let me now deal with East Anglia. The A47 is a vital east-west link between this economic powerhouse, the midlands and the north. As a result of the feasibility study, I can announce substantial work to the east and west of Norwich, upgrading North Tuddenham to Easton, and Blofield to North Burlingham. This will create 30 miles of continuous dual carriageway around the city. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) has continued to highlight the dangers of the Acle straight, so I am pleased to be able to announce a £10 million fund for safety measures and investigations into the long-term future of this hazardous road. Other schemes include the £280 million upgrading of the A428 between the Black Cat roundabout and Caxton Gibbet. This will create an express standard road between Cambridge and Milton Keynes.
In the midlands, we are committing £20 million to upgrading the Chowns Mill junction between the A45 and the A6, and junctions along the A52 around Nottingham will be improved. Junction 10A of the A14 will be built, opening up a substantial development site.
In the north-west, the port of Liverpool will benefit from a £250 million upgrade on the link between the docks and the motorway, and we will also act on the trans-Pennine feasibility study, which will cut jams through a new link road to Glossop. There will be new passing lanes on the A628 and dualling of the A61. We will commission a new feasibility study focusing on the M60 around Manchester, working closely with the local transport authorities. We will consult on the options around Mottram and Tintwistle while keeping in mind the scenic importance of this area on the edge of the Peak District national park.
In the north-east and Yorkshire, two further feasibility studies on the A1 will lead to improvements around Newcastle and a significant improvement to the road towards the Scottish border. This is a main link between the two capitals of the United Kingdom and it has been made clear that action is needed, so I can announce that we will invest more than £600 million to improve the A1 Newcastle-Gateshead western bypass and to dual the A1 north of Newcastle between Morpeth and Ellingham. Work will be done on tackling the notorious pinch point at the Hopgrove roundabout on the A64.
Finally, in their commitment to all parts of England, including the north, the Government have not forgotten that the south needs good roads too. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) will be pleased to hear about the junction work on the A34 around Oxford, and we are looking at the long-term future for this road. Ashford will benefit from a new junction 10A on the M20, facilitating growth in the south-east of the town. Junction 30 of the M25 will see huge improvement, strengthening access to ports in Essex. As a result of a further feasibility study on the A27, improvements will include a new dual carriageway bypass around Arundel, and improvements to the road junctions in Worthing and Lancing. Furthermore, £75 million has been ring-fenced for the A27 east of Lewes.
This is a comprehensive package for all parts of England. It is funded; it is committed; it will bring change. It sits alongside our much wider investment in better transport, including a transformation of our railways. There will be proper co-ordination with work being done by local transport and Network Rail. I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Secretary of State for giving me advance sight of his statement. However, the whole country has had advance sight of these projects, first when they were announced in June 2013 and subsequently at the time of their re-announcement in November this year. This latest re-announcement represents not so much an upgrade of the nation’s roads as an upgrade of the Government’s press releases. If the Government were as good at upgrading roads as they are at making announcements about upgrading roads, life would be considerably easier for Britain’s hard-pressed road users.
The Secretary of State is right to talk about the vital importance of our road network to families and businesses throughout the country, but is this not a classic case of all talk and no delivery from the Government? We know that they have failed to deliver, not just on roads but on their infrastructure promises. Will the Secretary of State confirm that infrastructure output has fallen by more than 11% since 2010, and that only a third of the projects in the national infrastructure plan will have started by 2015? If the prehistoric builders who began work on Stonehenge had taken the approach to construction that the Government are taking, we would still be waiting for the first stone to be erected four and a half thousand years later. Is it not high time that the Government backed Sir John Armitt’s proposal for an independent national infrastructure commission to identify our long-term infrastructure needs? Why do Ministers disagree with—according to the CBI—89% of businesses about the need for such a commission?
We support proposals to tackle congestion hot spots, and we support long-term funding for roads, but given the Government’s track record, we will be looking at the detail very carefully, and scrutinising their plans against clear objectives. Those objectives are that the public get value for money, that the schemes support economic growth, and that the schemes deliver tangible improvements for road users.
Labour spent £94 billion on the road network between 1997 and 2010, delivering significant improvements in both strategic and local road networks. Can the Secretary of State confirm that, in marked contrast, the Government’s record includes the cancelling of schemes for roads such as the A14 and their subsequent reinstatement, a process that wasted millions of pounds; promises of private investment on which they failed to deliver; and the repeated issuing of deadlines for the completion of improvements, which they missed time and time again? We know that the Government cut £4 billion from Labour’s planned road investments in 2010. Will the Secretary of State confirm that what he has announced today includes no money in addition to that which the Government have previously announced?
The Secretary of State said nothing about tackling the desperate condition of many of our local roads, and the pothole crisis throughout the country. The Department’s own statistics for this year show that spending on local authority minor roads has fallen by 20% since 2010. The latest figures also reveal that over 2,250 more miles of our local roads now need maintenance. That is the equivalent of the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats and back again. What is the Secretary of State doing about the urgent need to improve the condition of those local roads?
Let me now comment on some of the individual proposals that the Secretary of State has announced today. First, we favour the long-term investment in our roads that the road investment strategy provides, but when will the Government present firm proposals for the new strategic highways company? Secondly, what assessment has the Secretary of State made of the possible impact on the five-year funding settlement of a delay in the proposed reform of the Highways Agency? Thirdly, the £l00 million for cycle schemes and cycle-proofing is welcome, but cyclists and transport planners are right to ask what the Government are doing to deliver much needed long-term investment and planning for cyclists. Fourthly, will the Secretary of State publish the environmental impact assessments of all the proposed road plans?
Finally, we know that the current Government’s sudden interest in roads has more to do with the forthcoming general election than the transport needs of the country. This is a sad attempt at motorways for the marginals, new lanes for soon-to-be-defeated Liberal Democrats, and trunk roads for Tories about to be turfed out by Labour.
Ministers will be judged not on what they say they will do after the next election, but on what they have actually done since the last election. The sad truth for Britain’s hard-pressed road users is that this is a desperate pre-election move from a Government who have failed to deliver on our nationally strategic roads, and when it comes to our important local roads, the reality is that things have got much, much worse.
I think I heard in part of that rant a commitment to support a roads investment strategy. That is much needed in this country. The simple fact is that we have had such a strategy for the railways for the last few years, and we should have one for the Highways Agency and our strategic roads, because big projects like this do take time. On the idea that somehow we have ignored these projects, I would point out that since 2010 we have completed eight major road schemes left to us by the last Government, and we have completed a further six started by this Government. We have also started construction on a further 14 schemes. Mr Speaker, because you like short replies I will not list them all, but I could easily do so if I needed to.
On funding for local highways, between 2005 and 2010, at the time of the last Government—when the hon. Gentleman was a spokesman for the former Prime Minister and for some time did the job of writing his press releases—local highways maintenance funding was £3.7 billion. Between 2010 and 2015, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the spending on highways authorities has been £4.7 billion. So, yes, Mr Speaker, I make no apologies for the fact that we have had to cut some schemes that were announced in the very late days of the last Government, but we have also invested in the roads programme—and we have invested substantially, and we will continue to do so.
The answer I have just given was on local roads. As I said, between 2005 and 2010 the funding was £3.7 billion and between 2010 and 2015 the spending going to local authorities is £4.7 billion.
Today we have set out some ambitious programmes, because I am ambitious for the roads of this country, but that should be set alongside the ambition that we have also laid out for the railways and the investment we are making in them, which is seeing more people use the railways today than at any time in our history. We have also got to make sure our road network is sufficient for future generations. That is what today’s schemes will achieve.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the details. They were set out in the written statement I made this morning. Four documents explain what will be expected of the new roads investment strategy and the new highways department.
I thank my right hon. Friend not only for helping in the seats identified by the hon. Member for Barnsley East (Michael Dugher), but for giving me the information that the Labour party is going to challenge me in Worthing. There was clearly support for dualling in Worthing and either side of it. There are clear benefits for safety, in air pollution reduction, and for environmental protection for the other roads and the countryside. Were the Dutch to come to the A27, they would say, “Why haven’t you put this dual carriageway in a long time ago?”
This renewed announcement is certainly very welcome, but does it not mean that the assessment made by the Institute for Public Policy Research that 62% of transformational infrastructure investment is in London remains exactly the same?
The hon. Lady, the Chairman of the Select Committee, says that this is a renewed announcement. Yes, the figure was set out last year but we are now putting the flesh on the bones in terms of what that figure will buy. I know that her Committee will want to look at the figures in more detail, but when she looks at what we are doing, she will recognise that we have struck a good balance across the whole country. She makes the point about what has happened historically regarding investment in London, but those figures are made larger by the huge investment in Crossrail. I am also keen to see investment in the rest of the country, spread across the whole of England.
I warmly welcome the announcement of investment in the A47. Is the Secretary of State aware that that artery is vital not only to our regional economic success but to west Norfolk’s future? Now that the road has been designated a key strategic route, does he agree that today’s announcement should be a precursor to the dualling of the whole route?
I have already been accused of being over-ambitious. I am sure that my hon. Friend will repeatedly make the case for the dualling of the whole of that route, but the plans that we have outlined today will go a long way towards providing some of the shorter-term improvements for the road.
I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about the importance of the A1 linking the Tyne and Wear conurbation with the Edinburgh-Glasgow conurbation. I also welcome the work that he has announced today, but it will still leave 25 miles of single track that ought to be dualled. Will he set out his plans for the future dualling of the road on the English side of the border?
In Yorkshire and the north-east, there will be 26 schemes worth £3 billion, including 18 new schemes worth £2.3 billion, the A1(M) to Newcastle will be fully open by 2017 and the A1 will be dualled to Ellingham, 34 miles north of Newcastle, so I think we have made a start in the right direction. It is a pity that that start was not made in the 13 years when the right hon. Gentleman and his Government had responsibility for these matters.
This investment, which will include improvements to the M3 and the M27, will be a particular boon to my constituents, although more work needs to be done on quietening the M27. Does the Secretary of State agree that the dualling of the A303 and the A358 in the south-west, the dualling around Ellingham and the vital reduction of black spots on the A30 will represent a boon for the economy in north Cornwall and the area around Berwick-upon-Tweed and a help for local businesses, as well as helping to reduce pollution and carbon output as a result of the reduction in congestion?
The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that a good transport system will lead to fewer emissions, which will be welcomed right across the House. As far as the south-east and London are concerned, we are talking about 29 new schemes worth £3 billion, with 18 new schemes worth £1.4 billion.
Given that investment in transport infrastructure has fallen significantly under this Government, and that the Secretary of State’s Conservative predecessor made exactly the same promise about the A303 in December 1996, I hope the Secretary of State will forgive me if I take today’s reannouncements with a tad of scepticism. Given the huge economic damage to the south-west whenever our main rail artery is severed, does he agree that tackling the vulnerability of our rail infrastructure has to be our region’s greatest priority?
The right hon. Gentleman slightly absurdly chastises me for something that was said in 1996. If my memory serves me correctly, there was a different Government between 1997 and 2010, of whom he was a member. There must therefore have been 13 years in which he failed to make any progress whatever for his area, so I will not take too many lessons from him on that. I agree with him on the question of resilience in the south-west, however, and I am keen to ensure that we look at that whole matter. That includes the railways, but it also involves improving the road network, which has been sadly neglected. The planned improvements for the A303 and the A30 that we have announced today will have a substantial effect on the area, and will be of great benefit to the south-west.
May I tell my right hon. Friend of the gratitude in mid-Essex at his announcement that he has listened to representations over the past year or so and will be upgrading to three lanes the A12 from the M25 to Chelmsford and from Chelmsford to Colchester? That is a strategic feeder road into the east of England and the port of Felixstowe, so it is particularly welcome that the Secretary of State is acting to deal with the congestion and the problems that have, for too long, been associated with that road.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his welcome. In the east of England we are talking about 17 schemes worth £3 billion, of which 15 are brand new schemes worth £1.5 billion. He has been a strong advocate for the improvements of the roads to Chelmsford.
One of my colleagues should have mentioned our also having to suffer the Deputy Prime Minister on Radio 4 this morning. Today’s statement talks about roads and previous statements have dealt with rail, but what we need for the first time—probably since the Romans—is a proper integrated transport statement. When are we going to have that?
An integrated transport system would address the different components of the transport world, and we have done exactly that by having a rail investment programme and a roads investment strategy. The hon. Gentleman did not point out the number of schemes in the midlands, so it is perhaps worth my pointing that there are 31 schemes in the midlands worth £2.9 billion, with 17 new schemes worth £1.4 billion. This is good news not only for the midlands, but for the construction industry, as it can plan properly to get the right skills and the right people in place.
May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the already excellent work done recently on the A23, but ask him to have regard in his future announcements to those of us in constituencies where there is very high demand for new housing and where the infrastructure simply cannot cope with existing requirements?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct on this, which is why when addressing transport in the whole one cannot just rely on the roads and instead one also looks at the railways. That is why I am particularly pleased that we have managed to find so much money, given the economic problems we face at this time, for enhancements on our rail structures as well.
I was pleased to hear the Secretary of State’s comments about the importance of resilience in our rail network in the south-west, and I am sure we are all awaiting the statement on Wednesday with great interest. He talked about reforming transport networks. As part of these much publicised reforms, does he intend to extend the national strategic transport corridor to Plymouth?
I welcome the announcement of the first ever roads investment strategy, which I know is the culmination of several years of careful preparation by my right hon. Friend. Does he agree that it is the five-year funding deal that is likely to be transformational and to open up efficiency opportunities in both procurement and the supply chain, which will ensure that these schemes can be delivered?
Yes, and may I say to my hon. Friend how grateful I am to him as although he did not specifically deal with this issue, we did discuss it in general when he was in the Department? He is absolutely right in what he says; we have seen that as far as the railways are concerned—the long-term planning for the rail investment strategy is very important. Likewise, the construction industry will be welcoming this statement as far as its long-term planning is concerned, because it also means that the industry should be able to take on apprentices and plan and train right.
Is it right that costs in respect of the Medway tunnel should continue to fall to local council tax payers, when almost every other toll in the country is part of the strategic roads network and, therefore, funded by the Highways Agency?
White van man and woman travelling to and from Harlow will welcome the investment in the M11. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that £50 million will be spent on upgrading junction 7 of the M11? For the future, will he also look at junction 7a?
Can we get junction 7 sorted out before we move on to junction 7a? I welcome my hon. Friend’s point about improving the road structure, because although this may—something that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman said—help certain constituencies, it actually helps motorists in general who come from every kind of constituency.
This morning, when the Chancellor talked about the opening of the A1 north, he mentioned improvements in Northumbria, a kingdom that has not existed for centuries. Perhaps someone should have a word with him about the geography of this country. Last week, the Chief Whip said that the opening of the A1 was all down to the Tory candidate in Berwick. This morning, the Business Secretary said that it was all down to the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). The truth is that both those people have done sterling work, as have lots of Members on the Opposition Benches, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown). May I ask the Secretary of State why he has come to the House hours after he spoke on the radio? Does that not show contempt for this House and for the rules that you, Mr Speaker, have made?
It is true that Anne-Marie Trevelyan has made many representations about the road, but so, too, has the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is pointing to himself and the right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne East (Mr Brown). They doubtlessly made representations, but what I say is that we are not making representations, but taking action. There are many more Members making representations than delivering. The hon. Gentleman chastised me for giving an interview, but I gave no interviews until after I had laid a written ministerial statement this morning.
: In thanking the Secretary of State for his announcement of substantial dualling and further improvements on the A1 in my constituency, may I also thank my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, without whom these things do not happen? The Liberal Democrats will stay around, making sure that the promise is kept, and continuing to campaign to have dualling the whole way from London to Edinburgh.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that the road investment strategy is an England-only plan and will therefore lead to full Barnett consequentials of around £750 million for Wales over the five years?
As the unemployment rate in my constituency has now fallen below 1%, it is obvious that the many jobs that will be filled in my constituency, not least those at Stansted airport, will be for people coming from outside my immediate constituency. In that context, does my right hon. Friend accept that the M11 junction 7 improvement, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) referred, is extremely important, as is the completion of the A11? Will he assure me that he has not completely forgotten the link between the A120 at Braintree to Marks Tey to what will be the much improved A12?
As the MP and former local councillor for Mottram and Hollingworth, where the new trans-Pennine investment will go, I am obviously extremely pleased. Ours is a problem that will be fixed only by new investment in new capacity and that is what I want for my area. I thank the Secretary of State for his statement and also the hon. Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham). He and I have campaigned together on this issue since 2010 and we were told that we had no prospect of success, yet here we are with this good result today. The Secretary of State will understand that there is a huge hunger for further details in my area. Can he give us any more information on the time scale of establishing a route and on whether he believes that a public inquiry will be necessary?
The planning procedures will necessarily have to be gone through and the hon. Gentleman will have seen the details set out in the road investment plans and strategies that accompany today’s statement. I pay tribute to him and my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) for working together on this important matter and will check the wider implications for Mottram and Tintwistle.
As my right hon. Friend knows, I, my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage (Stephen McPartland) and my right hon. Friends the Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley) and for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) have been campaigning for a long time to have the A1 widened between Welwyn and Stevenage. I thank the Secretary of State, because this has blighted Hertfordshire for a long time. Widening the road, allowing the extra running and the motorway technology that he is introducing are very welcome, so may I thank him on behalf of Hertfordshire?
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his comments. I know that he is meeting the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes), tomorrow to discuss these issues and will no doubt want to look at the plans in more detail.
Earlier, the Secretary of State mentioned projects that are under construction. In the past, I have raised the question of the Tollbar junction just outside Coventry and the Whitley roundabout. We know that the work has to be done, but there have been delays that have prompted questions about business investment in the Coventry area. There are also delays related to transport problems in the area. This is a serious problem and I have asked the Secretary of State to look into it before. Will he look into it again and see what can be done?
I know that in and around the hon. Gentleman’s constituency there have been a number of pinch point improvements. These sometimes lead to delays and to considerable frustration while the work is being done, but if he has a specific case that he wants me to consider I will of course do so.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the improvements at Dodwells bridge and outside the MIRA enterprise zone on the A5 near Hinckley in my constituency. Will he give serious consideration to further dualling of the A5 in the direction of Tamworth and the M42 because of the importance of the A5 as a relief road when there are problems on the M6 and other surrounding motorways?
I would point out to my hon. Friend that in the midlands we have 31 schemes worth £2.9 billion. I am obviously always interested when there are specific problems, and if there are problems with opening up areas for investment I would want to consider them separately.
The Secretary of State’s statement refers to the £250 million upgrade of the port access road in Liverpool. The road goes through a largely residential area and there will undoubtedly be large concerns among people living there about congestion and the impact on their homes. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) suggested for the south-west, will the Secretary of State also consider the potential for improving rail access for freight from the port? That should be considered very seriously, rather than our just improving the roads. Rail is a key part of the solution, too.
We must consider all these issues across the board. We have seen a substantial increase in freight travelling on the railways. My understanding is that there are two possible routes for the scheme to which he refers and we will obviously want to discuss with local communities which should be the way forward.
I thank the Secretary of State, his Ministers and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury for meeting my Somerset colleagues and me to hear the case for the planned improvement works for the A303, which will benefit businesses, tourists and visitors to Somerset and which I warmly welcome. Will the Secretary of State speak to the Chancellor about helping businesses further by considering the case for cutting VAT on tourism so that the west country can compete equally on cost with western European holiday destinations?
I did not hear any announcement about investment in roads in Hull. If the Secretary of State is really serious about investing in transport infrastructure, when will he make the announcement about the privately financed electrification of the line to Hull, which we need desperately?
If memory serves me correctly, I have made some announcements on Castle street, which runs through the centre of Hull, and on meeting the local enterprise partnership to talk abut definite improvements. I think that I also announced at Transport questions a few weeks ago an increase in the GRIP—governance for railway investment projects—funding to look at the whole process for electrification. I think that we have made more progress on delivering infrastructure in Hull than was made in any number of years when it was represented by a number of distinguished other people.
After years of my pestering, the Transport Secretary will know exactly how welcome today’s new announcement of £50 million for the A34 will be for my constituents, who suffer daily misery on that road, but will he ensure that the new feasibility study does indeed find a long-term, deliverable solution to the A34’s unsustainable capacity problems, and will he promise me not in any way to limit his ambition when it comes to the A34?
I hope that the announcements I have made today will go some way towards alleviating the congestion on that particularly busy artery, about which my hon. Friend has made many representations. I am sure that we shall have further such meetings to see what more can be done to improve the whole route and to make it an express route that also serves her constituents.
I, too, welcome today’s announcement, but I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Robert Flello) in his hope that we can work towards an integrated transport strategy. Given that one in 12 deaths is linked to poor air quality in some areas, reducing the average life of Britons by six months, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure that these developments do not reduce air quality?
I have two points for the hon. Lady. First, congested traffic causes more air pollution than traffic that is managing to move along. Secondly, the Government are investing over £500 million in ultra-low emission vehicles and encouraging their roll-out. We are also seeing car companies investing substantial sums of money in new technology.
I welcome the completely new money being put into a new junction 10A on the A14 at Kettering and praise the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill), for visiting the site. The new junction will unlock millions of pounds of new private sector investment in Kettering. Without that announcement, traffic in Kettering would have been in grave danger of grinding to a complete halt.
It is a matter of public record that Labour spent next to nothing on transport infrastructure in the greater Peterborough area during 13 years in power, yet over the past four years we have had £43 million for a remodelled railway station, new rolling stock, better and faster trains on the east coast main line and road improvements on the A1139 and Paston Parkway, and this morning we heard the announcement of upgrades to the east and west of Peterborough. My constituents will be puzzled by Labour’s response, which is “Where did it all go wrong?” Does my right hon. Friend agree?
I certainly agree that my hon. Friend’s constituency has seen substantial transport infrastructure investment, which is right and necessary. We need to continue doing that, because there is a lot more work to be done. I am pleased that he has welcomed today’s announcement. I very much hope that the Opposition, despite the muddled response from their spokesman, will endorse this plan. If they do not, they need to say which of the schemes they would stop.
When it comes to cancelling road schemes, I am not sure that we need to be lectured by the party of Lord Prescott. Leaving that aside, we are at present borrowing £100 billion a year and we cannot magic money, so will the Secretary of State assure us that every scheme will meet a rigorous business case on wealth creation and eschew all political pressure and vanity projects? If that means, by the way, that we just have to lay another road alongside the A303 at Stonehenge and not wait another 40 years for a tunnel, let us get on with it.
I partly agree with my hon. Friend, but I diverge from him in one area. If we are to build in the Stonehenge area, we must do the right thing both for the environment and for that particular ancient monument, which is so important. I suggest that my hon. Friend looks at other examples relating to environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Hindhead tunnel, which has been very beneficial to the environment.
Severe congestion at Arundel damages both the local economy and the environment because traffic is forced up through the south downs. Storrington in my constituency has some of the worst air pollution in the south-east, so I welcome today’s statement and the announcement of an Arundel bypass and thank my right hon. Friend. Does he share my surprise that Opposition Front Benchers should criticise this Government for delivery when it was the previous Labour Government who cancelled the Arundel bypass?
No, the Opposition’s line does not surprise me. It is a great pity. I have been to see the route supported by my right hon. Friend, which I think will make a huge difference to Arundel. The amount of traffic backing up on that route at present is bad for Arundel, the environment and passengers.
I certainly welcome the improvements to the A417 Air Balloon roundabout; the Secretary of State will know from personal experience just how devastating congestion there can be. Does he agree that the delivery of improved logistics for manufacturers across my constituency is a powerful endorsement of this Government’s long-term economic strategy?
I have visited that roundabout with a number of hon. Friends from that area. There is no doubt that it needs some work. It is a very sensitive area and it will take some time to evaluate exactly what the right scheme for it is. My hon. Friend is right. It is a bottleneck and I think the proposal will have a transformational effect not just on his constituency, but on the rest of the haulage industry.
I am grateful for the investment in the A47, including upgrading the A47-A11 Thickthorn roundabout. Will the Secretary of State confirm that the funding will deliver the scheme required to relieve pressure on one of Norfolk’s busiest roundabouts at a time of rapid planned growth in and around the south of Norwich?
I very much welcome the announcement of a new junction on the M49 to support the enterprise zone in Avonmouth, which was a local enterprise partnership priority. Could the Secretary of State reassure me that the Government are also considering rail for that area so that this extra junction does not create extra traffic chaos, particularly given the enormous planned housing development there, so we can we can have a western hub as well as a northern hub?
Congestion at the Dartford crossing blights road users in my constituency of Thurrock, particularly those connected with the logistics industry. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for investing in junction 30, which will alleviate that, and, indeed, for the successful introduction of free-flow tolling at the crossing, which commenced this very morning. My right hon. Friend will be aware, however, that constituents in Thurrock are very concerned about the options for a new lower Thames crossing. With that in mind, will he encourage Transport for London to do its bit to introduce new road traffic capacity to cross the Thames?