Wednesday 19 October 2016
[Mrs Cheryl Gillan in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered alms houses and their role in housing policy.
I acknowledge at the outset the assistance I received from Charlie Corlett, who interned in my office over the summer, in preparing my contribution to this important debate.
For the past four years, I have served on the housing and care committee of my city livery company, the Merchant Taylors; we take responsibility for the 130 or so almshouses that the livery company owns and manages in Lewisham and Lee in south-east London. At a time when public policy urgently demands greater housing availability, we should not forget one of the more traditional social housing classes. The almshouse sector thrives and should properly be regarded as having an important part to play in the ongoing housing ecosystem of the 21st century.
Almshouses are the oldest form of social housing. They collectively house some 35,000 of our fellow citizens in dwellings managed by roughly 1,650 charities. The tradition of almshouses began as far back as the 10th century, during the reign of King Athelstan; the oldest still in existence, the Hospital of St Cross in Winchester, was founded between 1133 and 1136. They were originally devised as places of residence for the poor and elderly, and some almshouse charities now provide care for other groups such as ex-armed forces personnel and those with limited financial means. In many rural areas in the UK, almshouses are the only source of housing for those in need and therefore play an important role in the social housing landscape.
With fewer new homes being built, house prices still increasing and an ever ageing population, the need for almshouses has never been greater. I also think that a number of philanthropists would regard an investment in almshouses as an appropriate way of making a contribution in the longer term, particularly in the light of the safeguards that I will come on to later in my speech. I hope that we can raise the profile of almshouses through the all-party group on almshouses, through debates such as this one and through sensitive Government policy, and I will come on to a couple of issues that I hope the Minister will address.
Let me give some background. Almshouses play an important role in providing not only dwellings for the vulnerable or elderly but an additional level of care that cannot be found in other forms of social housing. Most of the charities that run almshouses still provide wardens, who have been shown to be pivotal in the reduction of the social isolation that is all too prevalent among elderly people. It is also especially important that residents have someone to call if they are in need. That very personal relationship between trustees and residents is expressed strongly by the Almshouse Association, a support charity representing 95% of all almshouse charities in the UK. Prince Charles, a patron of the association, has observed that there is a “unique bond” between trustee and beneficiary, and that many trustees are willing to give something substantial back to their community because they grew up nearby. There are also communal areas in many schemes where the tenants can socialise.
With four fifths of almshouse charities in the UK running fewer than 20 dwellings, each charity can provide a higher standard of care for its residents. Almshouses, especially for the elderly, strike the right balance between the required level of care and the dignity and independence that could be ignored in an alternative form of accommodation. As the broadcaster David Dimbleby, who is vice-patron of the Almshouse Association, puts it:
“Almshouses are communities of people choosing to live together for their mutual comfort and support. Where old people’s homes can often have an air of despair, of the elderly being abandoned by their families, almshouses speak of optimism and confidence in old age.”
In general, almshouses have played an important role in creating a stable environment for people who need an intermediate option between common social housing and care homes.
The Almshouse Association does a significant amount of work on the preservation of its ancient buildings. My experience with the Merchant Taylors is of a mix of housing: we have some very modern new build on a particular site in Lewisham, but literally a stone’s throw away there is one of our most popular listed buildings, which goes back to the 1820s, and which the company had at a time when that part of what was then Kent, and is now a bustling inner-London borough, was made up of open country.
In an appeal made on the Almshouse Association’s 65th anniversary, its chairman Simon Pott condensed its motives into three simple points:
“supporting member charities in providing good quality housing for those in need, promoting the welfare and independence of residents and preserving the historic tradition of almshouses for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Almshouses also make a significant contribution to our national heritage: 35% of their buildings are listed. Simon Pott states that the almshouse movement today is “vibrant” and “progressive”, and I vouch for that. The durability of these institutions throughout the past millennium and the critical role they play today are reason enough to justify the support that they rightly receive.
I was delighted to launch the all-party group on almshouses last month with the hon. Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch), who apologises for not being able to come down from west Yorkshire today because of the important by-election in her neighbouring constituency of Batley and Spen tomorrow, but who is here in spirit. I know she supports, on a cross-party basis, much of what I am saying today. In setting up the all-party group, we wanted to draw attention to almshouses as a vital component of our housing sector, and to highlight some of the legislative challenges that they face in the 21st century, a number of which I shall draw to the Minister’s attention today.
A portion of almshouse charities are not registered social landlords—RSLs—and that can create specific challenges in relation to part 3 of the Housing Act 2004 and the national planning policy framework. The Act allows local authorities to designate geographical zones that feature particular types of deprivation, within which providers of residential accommodation can be required to hold a licence for each dwelling that they own or manage. Local authorities can charge a fee for such licences. The rationale for that policy is to identify rogue private landlords and clamp down on some of their worst practices.
Unfortunately, unless almshouse charities are RSLs, they can be inadvertently caught out by that legislation. It would be unfortunate for them to be regarded as being risky, as if they were rogue landlords. Consequently, such charities, many of which have only a handful of properties under their auspices, can be forced to pay tens of thousands of pounds for licences for the homes they provide, even though they manifestly do not exhibit the characteristics of rogue private landlords. They cannot pass on the costs of the licence to residents, since that would cause financial hardship and would probably be forbidden under charity law.
The Almshouse Association made a submission to the Department for Communities and Local Government’s consultation on houses in multiple occupation in December 2015. It asked for a statutory instrument to exempt almshouses from the legislation, but I understand that to date there has been no progress on that. Can the Minister confirm that we will get that legislation in place as soon as possible?
Almshouses have been caused difficulties by some local authorities’ interpretation of what constitutes affordable housing under the national planning policy framework. In cases where almshouses are not formally registered as providers of social housing, a number of councils have required almshouse charities to meet section 106 obligations, when the charities themselves have been developing new almshouse dwellings. That approach is clearly paradoxical, since the dwellings fit the statutory definition of social housing in the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. The Almshouse Association made a detailed submission to a DCLG consultation in February, but as I understand it, a formal and final response is still awaited.
On almshouse charities that are RSLs, there is concern about the impact of the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016, which obliges rent for tenants to be cut by 1% per year for four years. Under the Act, “tenant” was understandably defined in a way that included almshouse residents, but the definition of “rent” included the modest contribution that residents are asked to make to maintenance costs. In that instance, the Government were responsive to the concerns of the Almshouse Association and exempted RSL almshouses from the obligation for at least a year. The association is anxious to ensure that that correct exemption is made permanent.
The Minister will be aware of the proposal to cap housing benefit at local housing allowance rates for residents of registered social landlords. That will potentially have a significant—indeed, devastating—impact on the finances of some almshouse RSLs, as charity law prevents them from charging a weekly maintenance contribution, which would put residents in financial hardship. In recent years, many almshouse charities have built high-specification accommodation for pensioners under the affordable homes programme, which assumes that charities will be able to charge residents up to 80% of the local market rent. The charities committed to the affordable homes programme on the assumption that a weekly maintenance contribution at that level would be covered by housing benefit. When that concern was raised with the Government, a short-term exception was made once again, but understandably, almshouse RSLs would like to see the arrangement made permanent and explicit.
Given the historical roots of so many almshouses, it goes without saying that most almshouse charities were founded long before the Equality Act 2010 came to pass. However, a significant number of almshouses have constitutions that, alongside the basic criterion of need, restrict the beneficiary class, perhaps by age or gender, or sometimes by religious belief. In order to make such restrictions lawful, the charity must, of course, satisfy a plethora of Government bodies that the restriction is a proportionate means of satisfying an existing housing need—something that such bodies can understandably be a little jumpy about endorsing. The Almshouse Association recommends that the issue be overcome through an amendment to the 2010 Act effectively stating that, in the context of their charitable rules, almshouses are deemed to meet the test.
All that only goes to highlight a somewhat wider problem, whereby housing legislation and the associated regulation increasingly conflicts with charity law, making it difficult for trustees to be absolutely sure that they have achieved full compliance. That goes well beyond the issue of almshouses. New charitable legislation has come into being, but ever more legislation does not, of course, mean that the loopholes are being closed, and sometimes new problems arise.
Almshouses are a vital contribution to the social housing landscape in the UK, providing care and decent living standards—really, they are rather better than decent; in large numbers of cases, they provide superior living standards—for vulnerable groups of people in all corners of our nation. I trust that the Minister will take up some of the issues that I have raised. I made sure he was aware in advance of what I wanted to say, so hopefully he will provide satisfaction on some of the points. On others, though, he may have to go back to his Department. I hope that, alongside the establishment of the new all-party group, my speech will mark a fresh chapter in Parliament’s understanding of the almshouse movement and, beyond that, ensure that it will thrive for many centuries to come.
Moreover, as I have said, I hope that more knowledge of almshouses will inspire a new generation of philanthropists to make their contribution, in this century, to alleviating the problems of housing shortage, especially, but not exclusively, for the less well-off in our communities. We have to recognise that the housing crisis—I shall use that term, for want of a better one, although I know that it is, to a certain extent, subject to political dispute—means that we have to use every tool in our toolbox. Our landscape will not be covered with almshouses tomorrow —we will not go from 35,000 to 350,000 overnight—but they are part and parcel of that effort.
Philanthropists should feel that, through almshouses, they can make a longer-term contribution to solving the genuine problem we have with housing shortage. They can last through many generations to come. It would be a wonderful development if modern almshouses were to sprout up in villages, towns and cities in the decades ahead. I hope that this debate will help to start the process of making sure that we, as opinion formers and policy makers, can make the almshouse movement strong for this century and beyond.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) on setting out the case so clearly for us all. He made sure that the issues that are specific and perhaps peculiar to almshouses are on the record. I am not aware of any almshouse charities in Northern Ireland, but the issues the right hon. Gentleman discussed are important. It is also important to put on the record our need for such organisations to deliver throughout society, which they very clearly do and must continue to do. I thank those who prepared the background information on this debate. It is very detailed and helpful and will help with my contribution. I shall make only a brief speech, but it is important that we put on the record the importance of almshouses and of charity.
Over the years, people with compassion have stepped in with charity when Governments have perhaps been unable to help. There are around 160,000 general charities in the UK. According to the “UK Civil Society Almanac 2012”, charities have a combined income of some £37 billion. That is money raised from charitable giving, charity shops and fundraising events, and by volunteers actively trying to make people’s lives better. That is the core issue of this debate, as has been made clear. Charities provide for and help people when they are abandoned by others—such help has to be encouraged at this time.
Almshouses are charitable organisations, some of which are also registered social landlords, and mainly specialise in housing for the elderly. They specifically set out to help those who are vulnerable and in need of help and care that they cannot get or are not getting through the welfare system. There is a specific role for the work that almshouses and charitable organisations do for the people they target and on whom their help is focused.
Of the 1,700 almshouse charities throughout the country, more than 30% occupy listed buildings, and many have celebrated anniversaries of over 400 years. Such anniversaries are important to record and acknowledge. Another feature of their rich heritage is that many almshouses lie in the heart of towns and villages, which ensures that they remain closely integrated in the local community. It is important to recognise the added benefit of their location, which ensures that residents are close to shops and services. In other words, they are in the right places and have the right focus in local communities.
The majority of today’s almshouse residents will be of retirement age and of limited financial means, and will have lived in the vicinity of an almshouse charity. Residents pay a weekly maintenance contribution, which is similar to rent but different in law, and less than a commercial rate. I hope the Minister will be able to respond to the concerns raised by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster on the specific circumstances of almshouse residents.
Almshouses make a real difference to the quality of the lives of their patrons. The House must recognise that and make the appropriate allowances. They help to fill a gap, which is why I support the representations made by the right hon. Gentleman and others on the Government’s intention to cap housing benefit entitlement for residents at local housing allowance rates and the requirement to reduce rent levels by 1% each year for four years from April 2016.
I am given to understand that, as a general rule, the rents charged for supported housing are higher than the rents charged on other social housing units. Thus the impact of capping housing benefit entitlement for residents of supported housing has caused particular concern, which is the reason for the debate. The whole point of these charities is to provide the additional care and support that is needed, and capping housing benefit in this way will make things even less affordable for those who need a little help to feel a little safer in their community, or even to stay in the community in the specific place where they are living.
About 17% of older people are in contact with their family, friends and neighbours less than once a week and 11% are in contact with them less than once a month. These figures underline the need for consideration —perhaps special consideration—of almshouses. Two fifths of older people say that television is their main company; for some older people, it is their only company. When there are so few community hubs, it affects the quality of life of almshouse residents, so almshouses should be protected.
It is a well-known fact that residential care is an expensive business. It is my belief that this cap will be a false economy, as it may leave some people feeling that they have no other option than to go into a home. For those who do not have a large pension, which will include those who benefit from almshouses, the cost of their going into a home will be met by the taxpayer.
With respect, I do not see any great saving in this change. I am sure that the Minister, when he responds to the debate, will say that that is not the case, but in my 31 years of representing the general public in an elected capacity, I have seen too many cases where the refusal to put a care package in place has led to people being put in residential care, at a much greater cost and causing much greater difficulty for those people physically, emotionally and financially. That must be taken into consideration.
I conclude by saying that our elderly people need help and consideration, and I feel that these proposals to cap housing benefit are not necessary or useful in any way, shape or form at this time. Therefore, I fully support my colleague and right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, if I can call him that, in bringing forward this matter for consideration in this House, and I look to the Minister for a positive response. We have a duty in this House to help those who need help, and legislatively we can help them. Let us hope we can do that as a result of this debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Mrs Gillan.
I start by thanking the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) for securing this interesting and informed debate. While I have always taken an interest in housing issues in general throughout my political career—I started as a councillor in West Lothian many years ago—and in supported accommodation in particular, I must admit that prior to this debate being announced I was unaware of almshouses. I suspect that that will not be uncommon among the general public and indeed among other MPs.
My research shows that there appear to be only two almshouses charities in Scotland: the John Menzies (Southern) Limited Employees’ Benevolent Fund, which is based in Edinburgh; and the Ellen Carter Almshouses charity, which is based in Hawick. Both of them are outwith my area, but I will do more research to find out about them after this debate.
As was shown by the examples given by other right hon. and hon. Members during the debate, almshouses clearly play a valuable role. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, they give us compassion and charity, which are two key aspects that should not be outwith the housing market at all; indeed, they are the basis for providing homes for people.
The Scottish National party is pleased that the UK Government have abandoned plans to reduce the housing benefit for vulnerable people who stay in supported accommodation, which would obviously include almshouses and women’s aid refuges, which is another form of accommodation that is particularly important to me.
Local housing allowance rates do not consider the additional cost to refuge providers or other providers of supported accommodation of leasing accommodation from social landlords, nor the associated service charge costs. If they had not received the existing level of housing benefit to cover their costs, refuges may have been forced to close.
It is estimated that 62% of housing association tenants in Scotland rely on housing benefit to help them to pay their rent, which highlights just how significant housing benefit is. I am delighted that the cuts from the application of LHA rates to supported accommodation over the 2016-17 to 2019-20 period will not be made. I congratulate the Government on taking that stance. Instead, we are told by the UK Government that from 2019-20 onwards they will introduce in relation to England
“a new funding model which will ensure that the sector continues to be funded at current levels”.
I welcome that because obviously it will result in additional funding being given to the Scottish Government to support the supported accommodation sector.
In the last Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Government exceeded their target of building 30,000 affordable homes by completing 33,490 affordable homes, with 22,523 of those completions being of social rented homes. Building more homes has been made a national infrastructure priority by the SNP Government. Over the course of the next Scottish Parliament, the SNP Government will build 50,000 new affordable homes, 35,000 of which we have pledged to make social rented homes. Ensuring that everyone in Scotland has access to good-quality housing is a vital part of the Scottish Government’s drive to ensure economic growth, promote social justice, strengthen communities and tackle inequality.
The Scottish Government have a number of innovative schemes for funding and building more of these homes. So far, we are the only UK Administration to invest in charitable bonds—more than £40 million has been invested in charitable bonds, providing the development finance for 581 affordable homes and generating more than £9 million for charities. I wonder whether that is an example of an approach to housing funding that could perhaps benefit almshouses throughout the wider UK and indeed throughout Scotland, because, as I have said, we have only two almshouses charities at the moment.
The Local Affordable Rented Housing Trust is another scheme. It is helping to provide 1,000 affordable homes across Scotland. Launched in October last year, it was set up to provide long-term, mid-market rented housing across the country. Overall funding for the LAR will be more than £100 million, with a loan of £55 million from the Scottish Government being matched by private investors. We also have the National Housing Trust initiative, which was launched in 2010. It was the first Government guarantee-backed housing programme in the UK.
As well as building more homes, which is absolutely fundamental, the right to buy was abolished for all social housing tenants in Scotland by the Housing (Scotland) Act 2014. That will preserve housing stock for the future and means that social landlords will receive a steady rental income. It also allows landlords to issue short secure Scottish tenancies to address antisocial behaviour and help homeowners in genuine need.
In conclusion, while almshouses clearly have a significant role within the housing policy model, in the Scottish context they are currently relatively minor. However, there is definitely more that can be done. More knowledge of almshouses would be useful—I would certainly be interested in joining the all-party group on almshouses—because it is an interesting approach. The comment was made that we can have more modern almshouses. That could fit in with different funding models and provide a valuable social context.
I thank the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster for securing this debate and I am delighted to have been able to take part.
It is a pleasure to serve under you, Mrs Gillan, in my first debate on the Front Bench.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) on securing this debate and thank him for the courtesy of sharing with me in advance what he was going to cover. This is not the first time that he and I have spoken about housing issues in London in this Chamber, even in the short time I have been in Parliament. I also thank the Almshouses Association for its briefing for this debate and welcome the formation of the all-party group on almshouses, under the co-chairmanship of the right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Holly Lynch).
As the right hon. Gentleman described so eloquently, almshouses have been around for centuries—long before the advent of council and housing association housing—and, as the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) clearly described, they continue to play a valuable role in the provision of housing in this country. They particularly benefit people such as pensioners and people with disabilities, those on low incomes, and occasionally members of other specific groups, such as ex-services personnel. In my constituency we have several almshouses. The Isleworth and Hounslow Charity manages 80 units, spread over six sites, for couples and single people. It is an amalgamation of a number of small almshouses and distributive charities. The oldest, Ingrams, was endowed in 1664; the newest, Tolson House, which is part-funded by the Homes and Communities Agency, was opened in 2012.
One of the strengths of almshouses is their local connection. They often have local trustees and many provide on-site staff, a social focus and a support element. In addition to the human side of providing homes, the older almshouse charities preserve an important part of our nation’s built heritage. So while almshouses may be historic, they are very much alive and vibrant and play an important role in the mixed housing economy in our communities, particularly for those who cannot afford to buy their own homes.
Before I address the specific points raised by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, I want to set the place of almshouses within the wider context of all supported and social rent housing. We have seen six years of failure, leading to the greatest housing crisis this country has seen for many decades. Housebuilding is at the lowest level under any Prime Minister since 1923. Rough sleeping has doubled. Private rents have risen faster than incomes. The number of new Government-funded social rented homes has fallen by an astonishing 98% since 2010, and housing benefit has risen by more than £4 billion a year in cash terms despite a series of punitive cuts. The pressures on all providers of supported and social rent housing could not be more difficult, and almshouses have not been spared.
Having set the scene, I would now like to turn to each of the points that the right hon. Gentleman raised. First, on the issue of licensing, he seeks a statutory instrument to exempt almshouses from the relevant legislation. Local authorities have discretion over fees and the licensing regime, which is there to catch rogue private landlords. I am sure that almshouses are able to work with their local authority to ensure that the licensing regime does not bring them into the ambit of something meant for a completely different purpose. However, I understand that there are some set categories for exemptions that almshouses have to follow and that presumably do not include non-registered almshouses. That is the reason for the concern that the right hon. Gentleman expressed. If he is suggesting that local authorities should have more discretion than at present to amend who is covered by the licensing regime, we would have some sympathy with that.
Secondly, on the national planning policy framework and planning obligations, the right hon. Gentleman says that some local authorities have interpreted non-registered almshouses as essentially being private developers that are therefore required to carry out section 106 obligations to provide affordable housing when that is essentially what their core business is anyway. It could and indeed should be a matter for local negotiation. Section 106 agreements are locally negotiated and agreed. Having spent some years as the chair of my local authority’s planning committee and many years as a planning committee member, I am well acquainted with the powers of the planning system and the ability to have local discretion according to local circumstances and need. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that some clarity and guidance on this area from the Department would perhaps be helpful to almshouses and planning authorities. We need to deliver much needed affordable housing more urgently. We share the belief of the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) in the importance of delivering many more good quality, truly affordable homes, and soon.
Thirdly, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster raised concerns from almshouses that the rent cut for social rent housing might impact on almshouses once the first-year exemption is over. Opposition Members regret that the arbitrary rent cut has potentially compromised the building of new affordable homes and damaged the relationship between providers and the Government. It has led to plans for the development of new affordable housing being scaled back at a time when there have been devastating cuts in social housing investment since 2010.
Finally, the shadow Secretary of State for Housing, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey), has led opposition to the cuts to the local housing allowance for supported housing since last December. It is dangerous and damaging to cap housing support for some of the most vulnerable people and to uprate it by a measure of inflation—the consumer prices index—that explicitly excludes housing costs. The National Almshouses Association is not alone in expressing concern about the Government’s plans to introduce a cap on the amount of rent that housing benefit will cover. It will mean that housing benefit for social sector tenants cannot be higher than the local housing allowance rate for private rent tenants.
The measure was due to apply to tenancies signed after 1 April 2016 and to come into force from 1 April 2018 onwards for everyone else. However, in March, following pressure from the shadow Front-Bench team, the Government announced a one-year exemption for tenants of supported housing. In July, my shadow Front-Bench colleagues secured an Opposition day debate in which they called on the Government to fully exempt supported housing from their cuts to housing benefit and to consult with supported housing providers to identify ways in which all vulnerable people who need supported housing can access it.
In September, immediately before the conference recess, the Government announced through a written statement that they would be deferring the application of LHA rates to social rents for supported housing further, until 2019-20. However, the Government will be going ahead with the cut to supported housing providers from next April. The written statement raised more questions than it answered. The policy is delayed, but the cuts will go ahead. There is no figure on the new funding pledged, yet the Budget scored the so-called savings at £990 million. Furthermore, Government announcements on the LHA cut have stalled the development of many new supported housing schemes.
I am concerned that the Government decision to delay detailing their cuts to supported housing will leave tens of thousands of the most vulnerable people without the certainty they need to live their lives. The written statement lacked important details on the top-up funding that will be devolved to local authorities and on the new funding arrangements. The continuous delays in outlining a complete package of support for almshouses and, indeed, the whole supported housing sector are unacceptable. It is vital that supported housing is fully exempt from these cuts. Otherwise, as the hon. Member for Strangford has so clearly explained, we risk pushing more pensioners into the far more costly care system.
In conclusion, almshouses, along with all providers of social and affordable housing, deserve to be treated by this Government with the same degree of respect as they afford their residents.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I welcome the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) to the Opposition Front Bench. I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) on securing this important debate on almshouses. He has a great passion for housing issues, particularly in relation to London. I welcome the opportunity to highlight the important role that almshouses have played for many years and, as we have heard, centuries. They continue to play that role in providing affordable housing for communities across the country.
The creation of the new all-party group on almshouses rightly reflects the importance of these organisations, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his new role as co-chair of the all-party group. I understand it had its inaugural meeting on 14 September. The group has a remit to promote the issues affecting almshouse charities and their continuance, development and strengthening throughout the UK. This debate is an excellent start to the all-party group’s work, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend and commend him on his efforts on behalf of the wider almshouse movement.
The tremendous dedication and work of the trustees and other volunteers who run and maintain these important organisations are fine examples of community spirit and localism that directly impacts the lives of residents. As a former leader of Nuneaton and Bedworth Borough Council, I am aware and proud of the huge contribution that the Nicholas Chamberlaine Trusts’ almshouses have made to Bedworth in the neighbouring constituency of North Warwickshire since 1840. The almshouses were designed by the notable Victorian architect Thomas Larkins Walker to house the poor of the town. The charity was established in 1715 as part of a bequest by Nicholas Chamberlaine, who was the rector of Bedworth for 51 years. With 28 homes still housing those in need, it is clear that this almshouse trust and others across the country continue to play a most valuable role in supporting vulnerable residents, particularly in many rural areas, as my right hon. Friend detailed. As he noted, almshouses also make a critical contribution to our national heritage by maintaining many listed, important and fine buildings that might otherwise be neglected.
On the points made by my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members about the legislation affecting almshouses, the Government have listened carefully to the concerns raised by almshouses that are registered providers of social housing about the potential impact of requiring them to implement the 1% per annum social rent reduction set out in the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. This important measure reduces housing benefit costs in the social rented sector in England, which had increased by 25% over the previous decade. However, we recognised that there were particular circumstances that could make it more challenging for almshouses to absorb this reduction. We therefore announced last month that the one-year exemption that had previously been granted would be extended for the full four years of the social rent reduction. I can reassure my right hon. Friend that regulations to that effect will be in place shortly.
We also recognised that the application of the local housing allowance rate might have a bigger impact on almshouses and other specific types of housing. We announced last month that we will extend the deferral until 2019-20 while we consider whether any additional arrangements will be necessary for this group, alongside the new funding model for supported housing that will then be introduced. These decisions have been warmly welcomed by the Almshouse Association.
On the LHA rates, I can reassure the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), who may have seen our statement that was laid before the House, that our solution for supported housing includes a commitment to provide the same quantum of funding as at present, which is an extremely important point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster also raised the issue of selective licensing. Licensing is intended to apply to most private landlords operating in a particular area, including registered charities. It is intended to raise standards in the private sector and provide a level playing field between landlords. Around 20% of almshouses are registered providers of social housing and, as my right hon. Friend said, are therefore exempt from licensing since they are subject to other regulatory controls. The remainder, although almost exclusively registered charities, are private landlords. The Government are not convinced that there is a compelling case for those providers to be treated differently from other private landlords operating in areas that are subject to selective licensing.
I am grateful for the Almshouse Association’s response to our consultation paper on extending the licensing of houses in multiple occupation, in which they raised particular concerns about licence fees payable under selective licensing schemes. We published our response to the consultation yesterday. Local housing authorities can charge fees to cover their costs in administering a selective licensing scheme. The Government do not regulate the fees that are charged. However, it is important to recognise that the fees must be reasonable and transparent, and, in particular, should cover only the cost of running the scheme; they should not raise additional revenue above and beyond that.
My concern is that those fees are a pretty strong disincentive for new or existing almshouse providers to expand in areas—often the most vulnerable areas—where there is a more acute need for social housing. Everyone wants to ensure that rogue landlords are properly brought to book, but the licensing fees are substantial. The sorts of almshouse charities that we are talking about may have only a dozen or so properties under their auspices. Given that it is meant to be a small number of areas that have licensing arrangements, almshouse charities might think twice about continuing to undertake their work in areas of acute social need. That would be a regrettable and unintended consequence of what is being proposed.
My right hon. Friend is probably aware of a Government White Paper on housing, which I will talk about in more detail in a moment, that will be published shortly. I am sure that he will feed his further concerns into the work that the Government are conducting.
Exempting almshouses from fees and offering substantial discounts is within local authorities’ discretionary powers. As the legislation stands, providers can speak to their local authorities about licensing fees and whether the local authority is willing to give an exemption or a discount. Before a local authority introduces a licensing scheme, the legislation requires them to take reasonable steps to consult organisations that are likely to be affected by the designation, and they must consider any representations made in accordance with the consultation. I would encourage almshouses and other private landlords to put their case to local authorities at that stage.
All of us would like local authorities to have as much discretion as possible, but we have to be realistic when it comes to the charging of fees. Given the financial constraints that all local authorities are under, it is unlikely that a local authority will exercise much discretion when faced with the prospect of losing substantial fees. I am afraid the Minister has not provided as much comfort as I would like, but I take on board his point that we can make full representations as part and parcel of the White Paper process. Almshouses do not have a special status, but they are recognised as an important part of the broader ecosystem, and some of the understandable protections required for tenants and local authorities alike should not necessarily apply, given the historic importance of almshouses, in contrast to the rogue landlords that much of the legislation is designed to try to deal with.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster has made several points, and he can feed those into the housing White Paper process.
On the national planning policy framework, which was mentioned, there was a consultation last December on changes to the framework, with a view to increasing the supply of housing. Any changes that will be made in the framework will be undertaken through the White Paper process. Again, I encourage my right hon. Friend and other hon. Members to feed into that. The impact and implementation of section 106 agreements will again be looked at in the forthcoming housing White Paper, and I encourage my right hon. Friend to look into that.
I was a little disappointed by some of the comments made by the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth in the wider context of housing, because her party presided over the lowest ever level of house building in 2009. House building has picked up significantly since then. From 1997 to 2010, the stock of affordable homes in this country fell by 420,000. Since 2010, the coalition Government and the current Government have created 293,000 affordable homes. In this Parliament, we are continuing that, with a programme for another 100,000 affordable homes to rent. During the 13 years that they were in power, the Labour Government built fewer council houses than this Government have in the last six and a half years.
Perhaps the Minister could explain something relating to the net gain or loss of social rented housing since 2010. In my area, the right-to-buy discount is so high that council houses have been sold through right to buy at a faster rate than new social rented housing, both council and housing association, has been built by our local authority. On his comment about the number of council houses built under the last Labour Government, it is true that council house building was low, but housing association new builds were very high. We also delivered the better homes programme, in which a high proportion of council homes were brought up to the decent homes standard—they had been neglected for many years before that.
It is quite obvious that the number of affordable homes declined steeply during the period of the last Labour Government. We are trying to address that, as well as the legacy of the biggest financial crash in living memory, which has caused significant challenges in bringing forward new homes. We are now on the right trajectory.
It is clear that in this Chamber we all share the same appreciation, respect and admiration for the almshouse movement and its volunteers. I look forward to continuing to work with that movement and my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, and his colleagues on the APPG. We recognise the value of almshouses, and the support that they provide, and the crucial work that they do, in many of our communities, and are keen to see that continue.
As the most senior Member in the Chamber at the moment—other than yourself, Mrs Gillan—I apologise if I have led colleagues astray with the bad habit of extremely long interventions. I have made speeches that are shorter than some of the interventions that we have been able to make today. I would not wish the lack of attendance in this debate to give rise to the sense that there is any apathy or dissent about this issue. There is a lot of consensus, which has been seen in most of the contributions.
I thank the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) for his contribution about the view from the other side of the Irish sea. On Scotland, I am sorry that there are relatively few almshouses in Scotland. Mischievously, I might wonder whether there was no great tradition of philanthropy in Scotland; more to the point, it may be that, with a different legal system, housing tenure developed in a different way north of the border. As the hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day) rightly pointed out, there are some almshouses in Scotland.
I know this is not exactly my party’s policy, but I agree with the SNP view that we need to ensure that increasing amounts of social housing—this would certainly apply to almshouses—should not be subject to right to buy. One way that we will encourage people—philanthropists, as I have said—to put money into the sector and get into it in a big way is if they are assured that the properties will not be subject to right to buy and that those charitable measures will be maintained in perpetuity.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) on her debut. I think she will find that this particular debate was rather more consensual than some of the more fractious outings she will get in future in her role. There is some merit in making sure that all parties are aware of speeches in advance, and I would always advise colleagues to do it, particularly in these sorts of Westminster Hall debates, because it enables us to address the issues. I am sure the hon. Lady recognises, as another central London MP, going down Sutton Lane and other parts of her constituency where there are almshouses, that they are very much sought after and remain an important part of her community.
Finally, I thank the Minister. It was very useful to be able to put my speech forward in advance. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane (Rebecca Pow) for doing her dutiful work as the Parliamentary Private Secretary and making sure the papers got passed on. I have found comfort in much of what the Minister said. There are one or two issues that we will have to look at again, but I hope the work of the APPG and the association will play an important part in ensuring that almshouses are not a forgotten, Cinderella area in the housing White Paper, but are in the mind of the Ministry going forward.
Mrs Gillan, thank you so much for allowing us to speak at length, albeit not at as much length as we thought we were going to. That gives you a quick half hour for coffee as well, which is a perfect solution for a Wednesday morning.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered alms houses and their role in housing policy.
Glenfield Hospital Children’s Heart Surgery Unit
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of Glenfield Hospital’s Children’s Heart Surgery Unit.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. The future of Glenfield’s children’s heart surgery unit is a hugely important issue not only for my constituents and patients in the east midlands but for people across the country—Glenfield currently serves patients from 296 parliamentary constituencies. The Minister will know that 34,000 people have signed an online petition to save the unit, and I understand that many thousands more have signed the paper petition. That shows the strength of local feeling.
Like the hospital, I support NHS England’s desire to achieve the highest possible standards for children’s heart surgery across the country. NHS England’s standards rightly state that it must be able to
“reserve the right not to commission services from a provider that is so significantly at variance from the standards as to cause safety/quality concerns. Such a decision would only be taken following a risk assessment of the costs and benefits of both closure and non-closure.”
However, there is no evidence that Glenfield is at significant variance from the standards—in fact, quite the opposite. According to independent assessments, Glenfield has among the best clinical outcomes in the country, including for mortality rates and readmission rates, which are significantly lower than those in other centres. Clinicians at Glenfield rightly say that it makes no sense to close a centre that is already achieving precisely the good clinical outcomes NHS England wants.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on achieving this debate, which continues the public debate we have been having in the county and the city in respect of the hospital. Does she agree that the hospital and its children’s heart unit not only has a regional and national reputation of the highest order but is a world centre of excellence, and for it to be closed or for any of its services to be decreased would be little short of wanton destruction? I urge her to urge the Minister to take that message firmly back to his Department.
I completely agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I am sure that not only the 57 patients from his constituency who are currently receiving treatment but the thousands of patients who receive ongoing care, including for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, which I will come back to, rightly value the high standards at Glenfield. It would be a huge and terrible mistake to close the centre.
In a recent letter to the hospital, NHS England raised concerns that more complex cases are being referred to Birmingham from Glenfield. I take issue with that. I would like the Minister to confirm that, in fact, only four such cases have been referred to Birmingham in the past three years, and that it is a professional obligation to seek second opinions when that is in the best interests of patients. That is enshrined in General Medical Council good practice guidelines and was recommended by the paediatric and congenital services review group in its recommendations in 2003. Few complex cases are referred but, when they are, it is in the best interests of patients. That should not be used as a reason to close the unit.
A second part of the standards that NHS England has set out is ensuring that sustainable numbers of children have surgery in each unit every year. The aim is to have 375 operations per year over the next three years, with 500 a year in the longer run. I want to make this clear: the hospital has told me and NHS England that it is on track for 375 cases this year and that, if it does not quite achieve that, it will not be by significant numbers. It therefore rightly asks: “Why put a centre on track to reach those standards at risk by this proposal?”
On the longer term goal of achieving 500 cases a year, there is an important question. More than 500 children in the east midlands need congenital heart surgery every year but do not all go to Glenfield. NHS England claims that that is due to patient choice. Some patients in Peterborough or Northampton will choose to go to places such as Great Ormond Street, but the claim that all patients in Northampton choose to go to Great Ormond Street while all patients from Peterborough choose to go to Leicester suggests the goals are more about historic referral patterns than about genuine patient choice.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing the debate and for all the campaigning she is doing on this important issue. I could raise many constituency cases, but I will raise just one. Scarlett from Kirkby was minutes from dying by the time she arrived at Glenfield. Her mum, Zoë, told me that she would not have made it any further than Glenfield. Keeping Glenfield open is a matter of life and death for so many children.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. She is absolutely right. Many patients and their families have told me that they simply would not be alive if they had had to travel much further. If the proposal goes ahead, the east midlands will be the only region in the country without a children’s heart surgery unit. It does not have to be this way, because if we properly manage the number of referrals across the east midlands, there will be enough for Glenfield and other surgery units to keep going. It is a balance between getting the right numbers and having quick access to a centre.
I thank the hon. Lady for initiating the debate. May I reiterate the point made by the hon. Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero)? My constituents who have contacted me about the hospital live a long way from Leicester—some of them live virtually on the South Yorkshire border, many miles away—and have used the hospital not just for routine surgery but for emergencies. They already have to drive 60 miles to get to Leicester, but if they had to go to Birmingham or Great Ormond Street, it would put lives at risk.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns. We have to be aware that it is not just about the essential, vital emergency care and surgery when it is a matter of life or death and whether children can reach a centre in time. It is also about ongoing care and support. It is not just that they have one or two operations when they are little; they need care and support right through into adult life.
We must remember that children are part of families, and families have obligations. They have other children they need to get to school and they have work commitments. To throw that up in the air when they have those arrangements and their children need ongoing care and support is denying those patients choice.
My hon. Friend is doing an excellent job in presenting the case. My young constituent, Jack Phillips, will be celebrating his first birthday later this month thanks to life-saving open heart surgery at Glenfield. His dad, Christopher, wrote to me:
“At such a devastating time having the support of our family who were able to visit from Nottingham regularly while we were in Leicester was vital to us.”
Is that not one of the issues about a centre being within easy reach of other parts of the east midlands?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have to think about people’s needs in the round—the need for high-quality surgery; ongoing care and support; and, critically, help for those families for whom this is a terrible, frightening and ongoing experience. Making the east midlands the only place without a heart surgery unit does not make sense.
It does not have to be this way. In its own standards, NHS England says:
“Networks will need to establish systems to ensure that referrals…between centres are managed in such a way as to ensure that each clinician is able to achieve their numbers”.
Its own standards say that people need to work together so that everyone can achieve the best. However, at the moment NHS England is not developing the work. I am a long-standing champion of patient choice, but the current proposals deny choice to patients from across the country who use Glenfield children’s heart surgery unit on an ongoing basis.
I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. The Glenfield children’s heart unit is vital not only to my constituents but, as she said, to people across the east midlands and beyond. She has alluded to the significant progress that the hospital has made in just the past year in driving up the number of referrals and operations. That significant progress gives me confidence that it is on track to meet its target. Will she join me in urging the Minister to press NHS England to pause, look at the excellent clinical outcomes and the progress on increasing referral numbers, and think again, to keep this hugely important children’s heart unit open?
The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. The clinicians at the unit and the hospital bosses have striven continually to improve patient care. They are not complacent for a second. They bust a gut to keep making improvements. Those improvements will, I am sure, be recognised and acknowledged by the 58 patients in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency who are receiving continuing care at Glenfield. He is right to say that NHS England needs to look in detail at the improvements that have been and are being made. When NHS England came to the centre in September—I was more than a little disappointed that it had not made a visit before it launched its proposals to close the unit—it found that some of its perceptions were wrong.
One important standard for improving care is co-locating—bringing together, in other words—the different children’s services, which includes not just surgery but other heart support, paediatric intensive care and wider services available to children. NHS England initially marked Glenfield down for not having plans to co-locate services. I am afraid that that was completely and utterly wrong. On coming to the centre it discovered that there are indeed such plans. I would like the Minister to confirm that University Hospitals of Leicester trust has plans to complete the co-location of all the services before April 2019, and has secured all the capital budget necessary to build its new children’s services hospital. To put all that at risk when the hospital is trying to improve services would be a big mistake.
Finally, I want to discuss the impact on other services in Leicester and the region of closing the children’s heart surgery unit. It is extremely important. As I said earlier, NHS England has itself said that it would not put forward proposals to close the unit unless it had done a risk assessment of the costs and benefits, including the knock-on effect on other services. It has not yet done that. I am concerned about two services in particular. Glenfield has a world-leading extracorporeal membrane oxygenation service. Essentially, if someone has a weak heart and needs surgery on it, ECMO enables oxygen to be pumped back into the blood during the operation. Glenfield’s is only the second ECMO service in the world to treat more than 2,000 patients. It conducts 50% of the entire ECMO activity in the UK. It also has the country’s only national patient transport service enabling people who need ECMO to be transferred swiftly from anywhere in the country to Glenfield. The huge benefits of that service were seen during recent flu crises.
I thank my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way again. My constituent, Alice Parker, was born at Queen’s Medical Centre 17 years ago. Her condition was so grave that her mum, Vicki, was told to expect the worst, but thanks to the expertise of staff at Glenfield who provide ECMO, Alice is now studying for her A-levels at Bilborough College and hoping to go to university to study biochemistry. Vicki describes the centre as “a true national treasure”, but actually, as my hon. Friend has said, it is an international treasure and it is vital that we do not lose the service.
That is right, and in fact Glenfield’s ECMO training is currently being provided not only to people from three other UK centres, but to people from seven other countries. NHS England seems to think that that work can be picked up and transferred somewhere, quickly and immediately, without loss of quality. In fact, as I know from speaking to many clinicians and nurses, that is not as easy as NHS England says.
I thank the hon. Lady for bringing this important debate. Given that Glenfield’s outcomes are among the best in the country, and having listened to accounts of the expertise it offers, I wonder whether she will, with me, encourage the NHS to rethink its decision to close it.
Absolutely. It would be a big mistake and it does not have to be this way. The unit is improving its care. It already has some of the best outcomes in the country. If we manage the referral patterns, we can ensure that Glenfield and other units continue to improve their care and support. I am sure that the 41 patients from the hon. Lady’s constituency who are currently being treated at Glenfield will appreciate her speaking out.
UHL is one of five tier 1 providers of acute specialised services in the midlands and the east region. Our amazing paediatric intensive care unit is part of a network of centres covering 17 million people. Any significant change in the number of children with complex heart problems being moved away from UHL will have a serious impact on the PICU and destabilise the network. That is not my view—I am not a clinician—but what the clinicians in the hospital tell me, yet so far NHS England has failed to publish any risk assessment of those knock-on effects on Glenfield’s ECMO or paediatric intensive care. The continuing uncertainty about the unit is terrible for the clinicians who are working there and trying to improve care. The threat of closure may be one of the reasons why it is not receiving as many referrals as it normally would, but it is also deeply destabilising for the families whose children need ongoing care and support.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for letting me intervene on her twice. I concur with the point she made: the situation makes it very difficult to attract clinicians, nursing staff and technicians to such a hospital. We need the expertise but, if there is a state of confusion or uncertainty, things become more difficult. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) wanted to make that point—he has many constituents who work in or use the hospital—but unfortunately, owing to parliamentary business, he was unable to be here at 11 o’clock.
I know the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) would have spoken up on behalf of the 94 patients in his constituency who are receiving ongoing care and support.
It is a miracle that Glenfield is providing such incredible standards of care when it has been under the cloud of uncertainty for so many years. It makes no sense to close a unit whose clinical outcomes are already among the best in the country. It makes no sense to deny choice to hundreds of patients who are treated or want to be treated at Glenfield, and their families, when, if services worked together to achieve the number of referrals that we need, our unit and others could benefit and improve. It makes no sense to leave the east midlands as the only region in the country without a children’s heart surgery unit, or to put at risk a world-leading ECMO unit and a vital, high-quality paediatric intensive care unit that supports millions of patients across the midlands and the eastern region.
The Government must think again. They must look in detail at the current evidence from the hospital about its outcomes; they must listen to the views of patients; and they must balance all of those issues—high-quality surgery, ongoing care and support, the knock-on effect on other services and whether other units in the country would be able to treat all those extra patients before they have made huge improvements, which will take time. It does not make sense. It does not have to be this way. We can work together to save the unit and improve care for everybody.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Gillan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) on securing the debate and on speaking with such evident passion and knowledge on the subject. I think she has impressed us all with her grasp of the issues. I also congratulate all other hon. Members, from both sides of the House, who managed to secure an intervention during her speech. They made their points clear, with some personal testimony from constituents who have used these facilities, and also made clear how important it is to the region of the whole, in their eyes, that the facility continues.
The future of congenital heart disease services at Glenfield hospital is an important subject, not just regionally but as part of the national plan to ensure that we have world-class heart facilities for infants and children in this country. It is a matter that has been around for some time, and I understand the point the hon. Lady and others made about how unsettling the uncertainty around the future of services is for the dedicated staff who work in those units. It is appropriate that we try to bring these discussions to a head in an orderly, thoughtful and timely way, so that that is not prolonged.
It is worth emphasising that NHS England’s review is about ensuring that CHD services are delivered with high quality and that they are consistent and sustainable for the future. The common standards, which have been agreed by clinicians, other experts and patients, are the driving force to make sure every patient benefits from the same excellent care. It is worth reminding hon. Members present that the proposals for changes to adult and children’s congenital heart services at Glenfield and the other centres across the country are at present just that: proposals. They are not final decisions. NHS England will be consulting on the proposals in the coming months, so it is not appropriate for me to respond in detail to all the concerns raised here today.
The hon. Member for Leicester West asked some specific questions, some of which I will be able to address but most of which, I regret to say, I will not. Those will be drawn out when we come to the consultation, so that the points she made about the current performance of the hospital can be brought to attention through the consultation process.
The hon. Lady has put her points on the record. I will be able to respond to some next month, but some will be part of the consultation, which we anticipate will get under way in the new year.
I am trying to put this in context, particularly in relation to the amount of time that we have been considering how to create excellent centres of congenital heart surgery for children across the country, which has been the subject of concern for more than 20 years. Clinical experts and national parent groups have repeatedly called for change, and there has long been an overwhelming feeling that change is needed. Added to that is the fact that children’s heart surgery has become ever more complex and technically demanding. Surgeons now operate on babies who may be only hours old, which demands a highly-skilled and technical team of doctors and nurses who maintain those skills through regular practice. That is why standards are being progressively raised for each surgeon over time, as the hon. Lady referred to.
As I am sure everyone involved in the Glenfield debate is aware, the process of consultation began quite a long time ago. A Safe and Sustainable review was launched in 2008 by the Department of Health under the previous Labour Administration—of which the hon. Lady was a member—to start addressing these issues. The decisions that came out of that review were challenged in court, via referral to the Secretary of State and subsequently to the independent reconfiguration panel. As a result of those challenges, the Safe and Sustainable review was halted. Responsibility for reviewing children’s CHD services was then handed to NHS England, which decided that its new review of those services would also encompass services for adults.
NHS England’s review team consulted extensively with patients and their families, clinicians and other experts before publishing the new standards for CHD services, which only came into effect in April this year. Hospital trusts providing CHD services were then asked to assess themselves against those standards and report back on their plans to meet the standards within the set timeframes. In July this year, following those assessments and further verification with providers, NHS England announced its proposals for change.
In the case of Glenfield, NHS England is minded to work with University Hospitals of Leicester to safely transfer CHD surgical and interventional cardiology services from there to appropriate alternative hospitals. The rationale for that is that NHS England is currently of the view that Glenfield does not meet the standards to be a centre for surgery and interventional cardiology, and is unlikely to do so in the future. The hon. Lady eloquently expressed her belief, presumably based on conversations with the hospitals and with clinicians, that they are on track to meet those standards. That will be important evidence to make available to the consultation, and I am sure that she and other hon. and right hon. Members will do so over the months of the consultation. NHS England’s assessment is based on information provided by the trust itself about surgical numbers, surgeons and their expertise, and which specialist services are located together. It has not come from the centre; it has come from the trust itself.
There is no plan to close Glenfield as a provider of CHD services, other than in relation to surgery. NHS England is instead proposing to continue to commission specialist medical services that make up much of the pre and post-surgical care required by people with congenital heart disease. Closing the medical services for CHD at the hospital is not mentioned under any of the proposals. That has understandably prompted much concern, including about the impact that such a transfer might have on issues such as children’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation—ECMO—services and paediatric intensive care services, as the hon. Member for Leicester West identified. As I understand it, when the review was undertaken in 2008, Glenfield was not only the first hospital in the country providing ECMO services but was the leading hospital. There were not many others. Today there are five centres offering ECMO services, so Glenfield is not in quite as strong a position as it was a few years ago.
The hon. Lady referred to the petition on Glenfield and the many hundreds of thousands of people who have signed it, which demonstrates the strength of public support for maintaining the service. It shows how passionately people feel about these issues and their strong desire to defend their local services. At this stage I reiterate to those people that no final decisions have been made. We need to wait and see what comes from the next stage of the process, and I am sure the petitioners will make their views known during that. I appreciate that hon. Members may be frustrated that I cannot answer all their questions at this stage. The hon. Member for Leicester West has referred to the meeting we will have in the coming weeks. I look forward to that and to attempting to answer some of her questions.
I remind hon. Members that this is not about cutting costs—that allegation has not been made by anyone during the debate, which I appreciate. It is about trying to improve the standard of service for some of the most sick infants and children in the country, and to ensure that we have a robust, sustainable pattern of expertise in a slightly smaller number of hospitals. Precisely where we get to in deciding which hospitals should provide those services in future will come through the consultation that will take place. The intent is for a formal, three-month public consultation that will conclude in the spring, with decisions being made next summer. I am sure all hon. and right hon. Members present will participate in that debate and I look forward to hearing their contributions.
Question put and agreed to.
[Sir Roger Gale in the Chair]
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We will need to start the winding-up speeches at 3.40 pm. At least six Members have indicated they wish to speak. You can do the maths. I will not impose a time limit, but if colleagues are courteous to one another, you will all get in; otherwise, you will not. It’s as simple as that.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered education in Merseyside.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I welcome my hon. Friends from across Merseyside to the debate—I include the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), who is an hon. Friend on this occasion—as we all speak up for education in Merseyside. We have an opportunity today to do a number of things. The first is to celebrate the many excellent things that are happening in education across the Liverpool city region. The second is to identify some of the challenges, and the third is to seek answers from the Minister on a number of key issues.
I would like to start by thanking and paying tribute to the hard-working people across the education service in Merseyside, including the teachers, the support staff, the governors who give their time voluntarily and, above all, the children and young people. I want to address some issues that relate to my own constituency and then speak a little about challenges facing the city of Liverpool, before finishing with some observations about opportunities for the city region.
Let me start with the early years, which are so vital. We know that people’s life chances are shaped when they are very young. We know the impact of poverty and family background. One of the greatest achievements of the previous Labour Government was Sure Start and the creation of children’s centres, which play a crucial role in my constituency. Liverpool has faced massive cuts in its funding from central Government. The city council’s cuts from central Government are as high as 58%, yet the council has sought to protect children’s centres. At the moment, the council is seeking funding from the clinical commissioning group to enable children’s centres in Liverpool to continue, which I very much hope is successful.
I want in particular to talk about nursery schools. I have two nursery schools in my constituency: Ellergreen and East Prescot Road. Both were judged outstanding by Ofsted, yet both are in fear of their funding being under threat. I know that the Government have promised an additional £55 million nationally for nursery schools over the next two years, but I seek assurances from the Minister today that the long-term funding that is so vital for our nursery schools will be provided, so that their excellent work in providing quality early years education is protected.
I have some great primary schools in my constituency. We know that school readiness in Liverpool is significantly below the national average. Communication, language and literacy levels are well below the national average. That is why the schools rightly place a great emphasis on literacy and numeracy. I contacted the Liverpool Primary Headteachers Association ahead of today’s debate, to ask its members for some thoughts. They expressed a number of fears that they wanted me to share with the Minister. They fear that the new assessment framework in primary schools might increase the likelihood that teachers are teaching to the test. Their fear is that we are not sufficiently recognising the great progress made in our primary schools, as well as rightly looking at the outcomes. They have a significant concern—of course, this is not only in my constituency—about recruitment of school leaders in the primary sector. In particular, they mentioned recruitment and retention of newly qualified teachers and subject specialists in our primary schools.
We have a fantastic set of special schools in my constituency. Two weeks ago, I met students from Sandfield Park School in my constituency to discuss the future of education in Liverpool. That was part of a superb initiative by the Liverpool Schools Parliament, which gives a real voice to children and young people in the city of Liverpool. I would like to mention Jeff Dunn, the council officer who leads that great initiative.
Whenever I visit schools and colleges, one of the issues that comes up most consistently is information, advice and guidance, and in particular what is available for those in the 14 to 19 age range. There are issues of quality, consistency and impartiality. Availability of good information, advice and guidance is crucial at both 14 and 16. It is particularly important that we address this issue for those who are not going down the A-level route. That issue has been raised with me by colleagues in further education and by the excellent university technical college and studio school in Liverpool.
There is a school in my constituency that I have mentioned before, and I mention it again today because it is an example of best practice. Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School provides superb advice and guidance from age 11. It issues year 7 students with a passport, which is updated through their years at school. It has industry days, where people from different occupations are invited to come in and talk to the boys so that they can learn about potential occupations. That is a fine example, but sadly it is still too rare. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to encourage and spread best practice across the board in information, advice and guidance?
Connected to that, we still have not got the issue of high-quality technical, practical and vocational education right in this country. I see great work in the City of Liverpool College, in the Alt Valley Community Trust and its North Liverpool Community College in my constituency, but whenever I talk to leaders in further education and in technical and practical education, they talk about spending cuts in FE and uncertainty—for example, about the implementation of the apprenticeship levy.
I am keen that the most academic students have the best opportunities they can. Last year, I established the Liverpool to Oxbridge Collaborative. I am working with eight local secondary schools to ensure that the most academically able students have the information and advice they need, and that they have the opportunity to visit Oxford and Cambridge and get help with their applications and interviews. I have been struck by the enthusiasm that the students who have been identified to be part of the project have shown, by the amazing support they have had from their parents and by the commitment of the schools and teachers to it. The goal is simple: the most academic pupil at a comprehensive school in my constituency in north Liverpool should have the same chance to get into our best universities as students at the top private schools. They will get the full support if they make that choice.
Of course, education is not only about young people. Lifelong learning is critical. I am struck in my constituency and across Merseyside at the positive work that trade unions do in promoting education—for example, via Unionlearn, the Trades Union Congress learning and skills organisation. I am also proud to be a patron of the Workers Educational Association, which does fantastic work in Liverpool and across the country.
In 2012, the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, set up an education commission. He invited my noble Friend, Estelle Morris, to chair that commission, and its report, “From Better to Best”, was published a year later. Over the last two decades, we have seen a significant improvement in the quality and results of schools across Liverpool. GCSE performance has moved from well below national average to much closer to it, reaching a peak in 2012 of 56.8% of students achieving at least five A* to C grades including English and maths. However, those results started to fall back after 2012, to 48.6% last year. I am encouraged that the provisional results suggest we have turned the corner, with Liverpool schools’ results going up to 51% this year. That is still below the national average but it is an improvement on last year.
A lot has been done since the Mayor’s commission. The Liverpool learning partnership is a very exciting innovation that recently gained charitable status. It is a membership organisation, and its members are the schools of Liverpool. Almost every single school is a member, including academies and free schools and the further education college. It is taking forward a number of programmes, such as “City of Readers”, which takes up the challenge that Estelle Morris set to make Liverpool the United Kingdom’s foremost reading city; “Liverpool Counts”, which seeks to focus on numeracy; and the new cultural education partnership. The aim is to work with schools, local authorities and School Improvement Liverpool. It is an excellent example of collaboration and I urge the Minister to study the strengths and achievements of the Liverpool learning partnership and to learn lessons for policy in other parts of the country.
Last year, the Mayor and Councillor Nick Small, the cabinet member for education, asked me to chair a strategy group to establish a Liverpool challenge. The vision is straightforward. How do we make reality of the mayor’s education commission report? How do we move from better to best? What can Liverpool schools learn from one another? What can the world of education in Liverpool do to learn from the world of work and what can we learn from other parts of the country?
When I was a Minister, I had the privilege of leading the London challenge. I recognise that Liverpool in 2016 is very different from London in 2003. There is not the extra money there was at that time and the context is of course different, but I believe we can learn from School Improvement’s experience in other parts of the country and indeed of the world. I am delighted that we have engaged the support of Sir Tim Brighouse, who worked with me on the London challenge, and the Education Development Trust, led by Steve Munby, to support schools in Liverpool to achieve that further improvement.
The goal is simple. To use the Sir Tim Brighouse’s phrase, we want to improve on previous best. There are many components, and one is to ensure we have the money to improve on previous best. There is real concern across Liverpool about the potential effect of the proposed change to the schools funding formula. I tread with care, because I realise that other parts of Merseyside might benefit from the proposed change, but I am focusing on the city of Liverpool, where estimates suggest we could lose £300 per child when the formula changes.
I know that the new Secretary of State has delayed introducing the new formula and I welcome that delay. I urge the Minister to listen to Liverpool schools’ concerns so that we do not lose out when the funding formula change happens, because it is vital to have the money we need to be able to deliver the quality education that children and young people have every right to deserve.
Finally, I want to say something about the role of Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) is here today. Devolution provides great opportunities for local communities, local people and local authorities to work together to achieve real improvement.
On education, the existing devolution agreements are positive. The adult skills budget is devolved, which is critical because of the number of adults across the city region with no formal qualifications, and is significantly higher at 11.5%, compared with a national figure of 8.6%, which is a national scandal, but our percentage is higher. Having the adult skills budget devolved is crucial, and we have some powers over apprenticeships and post-16 education and training, including leading on a local skills strategy. These things are important. The metro mayor, working with the combined authority, can truly drive a skills agenda that meets the needs of employers and citizens across the city region. Will the Minister do all he can to ensure that the city region has the resources it will need to do that properly?
I urge the Government to go further. I served as a Minister in the Department for Education, and it is fair to say that, whoever is in power, it tends to be rather centralist in its approach to policy. It was thus when I was there and it remains so now, particularly with the planning and commissioning of new school places around the country. Decisions are made at the centre. That is wrong and goes against the spirit of devolution, which is that decisions should be made close to where the people affected by those decisions live. Liverpool’s city region is of the right scale and size to be able to plan for future school places. Will the Minister work with the city region to explore devolution of the regional schools commissioner’s work?
Ultimately, the Liverpool challenge, which is about the city of Liverpool, could be taken up across the whole of Merseyside. It would be a more successful challenge if that were done because there are lessons to be learned from different parts of the city region.
This debate deliberately has a broad title to enable colleagues to participate and to raise a wide range of issues. I have focused on just some of those issues: funding, the pace of change and the narrowing of the curriculum. I want to finish by making an observation and then reiterating my six questions for the Minister.
The observation is that teacher morale is really important and morale in our education system now is at an all-time low. That concerns me enormously because money and resources are critical and the accountability framework has a massive impact. The curriculum matters and assessment matters, but having highly motivated and committed teachers, support staff and leaders in our system is surely the most important ingredient of a successful education system. Will the Minister reflect on that? We all have a responsibility to ensure that morale is raised across our education system.
Will the Minister safeguard funding for nursery schools nationwide? Will he encourage best practice on information, advice and guidance? Will he learn from the collaborative approach of the Liverpool learning partnership? Will he protect the Liverpool schools budget as the formula changes? Will he look at the Liverpool city region and, in particular, ensure it has the resources to deliver the local skills strategy and move to give it powers to shape the commissioning and planning of school places? Those are reasonable demands to enable a good education system across Merseyside to become a much better education system.
I welcome the opportunity to raise these issues today and look forward to hearing from my colleagues and the Minister.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I welcome the opportunity that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) has given us for this timely debate.
I want to make three points about education in our city region. First, I wish to raise a problem that confronts the governors and teaching staff at St Aloysius Catholic Primary School in Huyton. Its June 2015 Ofsted report stated:
“Disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs achieve very well. The progress that they make in all subjects is accelerated because of the high expectations of their teachers and good-quality support from skilled teaching assistants.”
There are 310 pupils on the roll at St Aloysius, six of whom are in receipt of an education, health and care plan. The first 12 hours of each plan are funded by the school, but some of the children’s needs are so significant that the school has to provide additional hours of support, causing further strain on its budget.
In 2015-16, the cost to the school of providing one-to-one support for those six children was £115,300—approximately 10% of the school’s overall budget. Effectively, this means that the teachers engaged in this resource-intensive area of the school’s work are not available to teach the other pupils. The cost of funding these plans, alongside investing time, money and support from educational psychologists and a range of therapists, is to the detriment of the school’s overall budget. That is a growing problem, as other schools, recognising St Aloysius’s strong commitment to children with special educational needs, are increasingly referring more children there, at the same time relieving their budget of the additional costs involved. Will the Minister note that schools that refer children with special educational needs to St Aloysius still receive that part of the general budget for special needs that all schools receive, even though they may not have any children with such needs? That is clearly unfair, and I ask the Minister to look at the problem, which, though it certainly affects St Aloysius, is, I suspect, not unique to that school.
My second point is about educational attainment in Knowsley. In early years and primary schools, outcomes for children have historically been close to or in line with national thresholds, but at the end of key stage 4, when children sit their GCSEs, Knowsley falls significantly behind national standards. To help to tackle that issue, Knowsley Council has set up an education commission. I hope that the Government will engage with that commission and support the work that it is doing to try to raise attainment levels.
I am sure that we all agree that improving social mobility is essential for improving the economic prospects of local residents and breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty. I welcome the Government’s recent announcement on the creation of new opportunity areas across England, which will see £60 million spent on school improvement in six social mobility coldspots. However, I was surprised, given Knowsley’s usual placement in the indices of multiple deprivation, that it was not selected as one of the pilot areas, so will the Government consider how areas such as Knowsley could be supported with similar targeted investment shaped around improving social mobility?
There are a couple of more positive educational developments in Knowsley. One is the Shakespeare North Trust, which has been carrying out plans to build a Shakespearean playhouse in Prescot. Its plans support the Arts Council’s goal for children and young people, which includes ensuring that every child has the chance to visit, experience and participate in high-quality, extraordinary work, and the chance to know more, understand more and review the experiences that they have had.
A further positive development is Knowsley Safari Park’s Bio-Inspire project, which will engage children of all ages in learning about the world around them, extending their innate interest in animals and wildlife to teach them about science, technology, engineering, humanities and art. I hope that the Government will be able to support that project also.
Finally, I would like to say a few words about the constant obsession of successive Governments with the branding of schools, whether we are talking about academies, free schools or, more recently, the proposals to expand grammar schools, and with decoupling secondary education in particular from local authority involvement. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) will have more to say about that in a moment. Far too much time and energy has been committed to issues of governance and what schools are called, at the expense of a 21st-century cold hard look at the actual education that is required to equip young people properly for the world in which we live.
In an interview in last Sunday’s edition of The Observer, the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, gave a thoughtful account of the direction that we need to take in education reform if we are to serve the needs of future generations more effectively. Ruling out blanket solutions, and viewing the proposal for more grammar schools as an unnecessary distraction, he also drew attention to the post-Brexit challenge of the
“need to develop vocational education in the system so the country produces young people with skills to replace immigrant workers”.
That is not to say that core academic skills, and the ability for those who want to do so to follow a more traditional academic education, are not important—of course they are—but rather to argue that in some cases, there should be available a post-14 education that prepares more fully those who choose the option of vocational education.
The oft-repeated mantra about the need for lifelong education, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby referred, needs to be developed beyond windy rhetoric—that is not what his speech was—into a concrete reality. In future, instead of education being a time-specific, one-off choice, as it too often is at present, it should be lifelong and flexible—in other words, an education for the 21st century.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on having started this crucial debate. I do not know about you, Sir Roger, but I think that we hon. Members often find ourselves talking in this place about things we do not know a great deal about. Happily, I do not think I am in that position today, because I spent 30 years teaching in a variety of schools on Merseyside. I was married to a supply teacher who taught all over Merseyside. I have been a member of a local education authority and a school governor. I have had four children educated on Merseyside, and I even started my education in, I believe, the constituency of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby, at Corinthian Avenue Primary School, if it is still there. The hon. Gentleman is nodding his head, so it must be.
I want to make just a couple of observations. Liverpool and Merseyside are seen as problematic in educational terms, but as Michael Wilshaw said in drawing attention to some of the problems:
“Are you really telling me that they lack swagger and dynamism? That they cannot succeed in the way London has succeeded? These are the cities that built Britain. They pioneered a modern, civic education”.
When I think of the history of Liverpool and Merseyside education, I think of a number of cracking schools, or schools that have been very good quality. Some of the names are now historical; some of the names have been changed, and sometimes the structures of the schools have been changed, but I am thinking of St Francis Xavier’s College, Liverpool Collegiate School, Quarry Bank and even Ruffwood in its pomp. I also think of Blue Coat, Alsop, Holly Lodge, the Liverpool Institute, which I know has gone but which my dad went to, as did two members of the Beatles, Prescot Grammar School, which I attended, De La Salle, St Margaret’s, St Julie’s and so on. There are a lot of good schools in that mix, and a lot of very eminent people were pupils at those schools. Incidentally, many of the schools that are now wholly private, such as Blue Coat, started off as schools with a particular impetus to address the needs of the most deprived children in Liverpool. There is a great academic tradition there, and we ought not to be in any way shy about declaring that.
Unfortunately, there has also been quite a mediocre tradition, in terms of technical education, and there is another less commendable tradition in the area: many families and many generations across Merseyside have seen education as a necessary evil—as a time-consuming interlude before the real world of work. In the past, that meant the docks, car factories, wholesale distribution or whatever. We can call that low aspiration, but at one time it was a perfectly realistic aspiration, because there were those jobs. Sadly, there are not those jobs now. The world has moved on, but attitudes have not shifted across Merseyside quite as quickly, so there is a problem that we need to face up to. The problem is that it is a low-skill economy. Despite all efforts in the past to do a great deal about that, not a lot has changed over the last few decades. There is low educational attainment in certain areas. What worries all of us, including, I know, the Minister, is the tale of girls and boys who simply do not achieve what they should, and who face a problematic employment future.
I know that the solution is pretty complex. It is multifactorial; schools are only part of the solution. We have to address such issues as housing, employment and family structure. However, it strikes me that the educational fix is pretty clear; it was well laid out by the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. Good early-years education is crucial, as is family support alongside that for those people who are unable to support their children in the way that we might hope. Strong school leadership is pivotal, and explains the destiny of some of the schools that I mentioned. Morale, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned, is also crucial, because it is no good having a great leader if he is not followed by troops who are persuaded that he is doing the right thing and are supportive of the task. Capital and revenue resource clearly makes a difference, and underpins the success of programmes such as the London Challenge. Also necessary is an intolerance of failure, which the Minister has voiced on several occasions.
The interesting thing about that solution, which I think we would all recognise and buy into, is that it is, as the right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) said, very little to do with most of the Government’s initiatives at the moment, which are all to do with structure. How changing schools to grammar schools or academisation actually delivers these things eludes me. What seems deficient—the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned the Liverpool city region—is a vehicle for local delivery, something that could make a London Challenge in Liverpool, because ensuring that there are good schools across the area cannot be done piecemeal. It is easy to get some good schools here, some indifferent schools there, and some sink schools elsewhere.
We need a powerful strategic player, and traditionally that has been the local authority’s role. As the Minister will not be slow to point out, some local authorities have failed. To be fair to the right hon. Member for Knowsley, over the years Knowsley has struggled badly. Equally, mayors can fail; for whatever reason, Mayor Anderson has not delivered on the 2012 ambition he set himself. Local authorities are a key player and need to be burdened with that task. Too often, historically, local authorities have been slightly obsessed with what we might call their premium brand; the mayor always showed up to the grammar school for speech day, but was not necessarily there when other schools had similar events. We need local authorities in this because we have to ensure equity of outcome, proper prioritisation across the piece, and that what is delivered in education is economically and socially relevant.
Wholesale educational improvement, which the debate is about, is a community task—it is a community treasure when delivered—but it is definitely in the whole community’s interest. I fail to see how we can do that without reinventing the LEA in some form or other, to give proper strategic leadership to the task presenting itself to us.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) not only on securing this important debate, but on the important work he is doing on education in Liverpool. His input there is absolutely invaluable. Education is vitally important in developing the potential of every individual; it is also important for the future of the city of Liverpool, and other areas in Merseyside, because unless people’s potential is developed and their skills can be utilised, the city does not prosper.
I note my hon. Friend’s comments about the background to this debate: the very high cuts to local government funding in Liverpool. He quoted the figure of 58%, but if the plans to 2020 are carried out, there will have been a cut of 65% to core funding in the city of Liverpool since 2010. To add to that, changes in the education grant formula are of extreme concern for the future. Although Liverpool City Council and the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, certainly oppose those cuts, and are very vocal about them, they do not just say what they are against; they are very clear that they are willing to innovate.
That innovation has taken place in Liverpool, whether in building new schools when the conventional sources of funding have been denied, or in looking at the needs of the under-fives and protecting Sure Start centres, children’s centres and nurseries. There is a particular threat to the future of children’s centres, which are absolutely vital in preparing children for school and supporting families. Both those functions are absolutely essential. I applaud the city council’s efforts in working with the local NHS, through the clinical commissioning group, to try to secure funding from that group to go with local authority funding, and I hope that the Government are able to support that in any way they can. That is a another example of innovation and thinking outside the box: looking at how we can put different sources of funding together to benefit the people we represent.
Further education is of particular importance. It is about developing a wide range of skills, aptitudes and interests, and also about giving people a second chance. Often, students who were not able to succeed in school—perhaps the educational system failed them, rather than the other way round—are able to see new possibilities when they go into further education and, in particular, college. It is absolutely essential that they be given support there.
Some 87% of students who attend the City of Liverpool College are from deprived areas. The abolition of the education maintenance allowance and other financial issues have landed a great blow on those people. When we look at ways of supporting individuals’ learning and education, we sometimes miss some of the basics. Sometimes people are struggling with difficult family situations, and when they do not have the means to survive, day by day, that inhibits their educational potential. It might not inhibit the potential of people who are already fully committed to education and have full confidence in themselves—those individuals can survive hardships—but people struggling to get self-confidence who are being encouraged to see new ways ahead sometimes struggle against the odds when their basic financial needs are not met. I ask Ministers to look again at that area.
There is a specific problem relating to the high proportion of students going to that college who have inadequate English and maths GCSEs. There is a problem in getting them to the required standards with the funding that is available, so I ask Ministers to look at that. There is also an ongoing issue about funding sufficient numbers of apprenticeships in that area. The Government have recently made statements saying that funding will be available, but I again ask Ministers to keep looking at that. Colleges should not be constantly concerned about adequate funding for apprenticeships. When students have commitment and want to make a real improvement to their life, they should be helped to do it.
Finally, I must mention the other vital area: higher education. In Liverpool, we have four outstanding higher education institutions. Liverpool John Moores University has made an outstanding contribution, not only to Liverpool, but to the country. It was the first university to combine what it then called employability—learning the practical skills of how to do a job properly—with academic understanding and analytical knowledge. It was the first to pioneer that, and it offers a range of very exciting courses. The University of Liverpool is an outstanding Russell Group university. It is outstanding in its teaching, research and the number of Nobel prize winners associated with it, particularly in the area of science. Liverpool Hope University has become an outstanding university, nationally recognised, and it should be encouraged in its work.
I must declare that I am a member of the council of the fourth organisation I will mention: the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. It is an outstanding higher education institution developing the creative arts, as well as interest in the creative arts, knowledge, practical ability and theoretical understanding, together with employability. Many of the stars of today were educated at LIPA. It might be worth remembering that LIPA began with support from the European Union. That is how it got where it was, and now it raises funds by other means. It is absolutely outstanding, and I hope that Ministers are able to support it. It is a credit not just to Liverpool, but the world; it operates internationally.
I will bring my remarks to a conclusion because I know other hon. Members wish to speak. I hope that Ministers are able to develop the points that I have made and to give their support, where Government support is needed, to go with the innovation and enthusiasm that comes from the city of Liverpool itself.
You might recall, Sir Roger, that during the Finance Bill Committee, as a Whip I was grateful for your guidance in my silent role. I hope that will continue now that I am trying to find my voice from the Back Benches.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate. I am grateful to him for enabling us to discuss these important matters. Too often, policy discussions are London-centric. This debate provides a good opportunity to highlight the great work being done in Merseyside and my constituency of St Helens North, and also to raise concerns about aspects of current Government policy and the detrimental impact it is having in our city region.
I want to focus my brief remarks on further and higher education and apprenticeships, but at the start let me say something about early-years education and funding. As other hon. Members have said, we know that early childhood is a crucial stage of life in terms of a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. It is a time when children need high-quality personal care and learning experiences.
In answer to a recent parliamentary question that I asked the Secretary of State for Education, it was revealed that three and four-year-old children in St Helens get almost £1 an hour less spent on them than children in the rest of the country: 21% below the national average. St Helens gets just £3.61 per child per hour from central Government towards the education of three and four-year-olds compared with the national average of £4.56 per hour spent on each child in England. With the exception of the Liverpool City Council area, the entire Merseyside region fares badly. The extreme cuts to local government, which will mean that by 2020 my council area in St Helens will have had its grant cut by more than it collects in council tax, merely exacerbate the problem of underfunding for children in St Helens. They should have the same rights and get the same opportunities as those in the rest of England, and that means they should have the same amount spent on them.
At the other end of the educational journey for young people, there are 10 further education and sixth- form colleges on Merseyside providing high-quality education and training to 57,000 students. St Helens College, if I might humbly say, is one of the best in the entire north-west and we are very proud to have it in our borough. Statistics from the national Association of Colleges show that the economic return to taxpayers from colleges on Merseyside is £5.40 for every £1 invested, and Merseyside colleges work with a huge range of employers to meet their needs: 5,500 in the city region and nearly 10,000 nationally. Although the excellent work undertaken by colleges should be commended, the system is under immense pressure.
Various issues currently affect colleges and schools in the region and their ability to meet the Government’s ambition of a good education that works for all. Chief among them, of course, is funding. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, school spending is expected to fall by at least 7% in real terms by 2020, which would be the largest fall over any period since the 1970s. That has left St Helens College and schools in my constituency facing something close to mission impossible as they struggle to cope with a large increase in student numbers, leaving staff under huge pressure. This is at a time when there is a chronic shortage of teachers across education after six years of missed Government targets for recruiting new trainees and with a hugely demoralised profession. The number of teachers quitting—some 50,000 last year—is at a record high. Our teachers should be valued and supported; they should not have their reputation and their profession traduced by the Government.
Skilled jobs and apprenticeships are an important part of education in my constituency and are a vital route into employment. They give an opportunity to learn and develop skills for the workplace while earning a living. St Helens chamber of commerce—one of the best in the country—supports local employers to deliver good quality apprenticeships. There are still concerns over the take-up of apprenticeships among 16 to 18-year-olds in Merseyside, and we need to ensure that the apprenticeships on offer are of a high quality and provide young people with the training and skills that they need.
As well as vocational training and apprenticeships, for many in the region, going on to university or higher education is the chosen route to employment. However, statistics that I have obtained show that the percentage of young people in St Helens going on to higher education has dropped by more than 6% since 2012, and the percentage of children from disadvantaged backgrounds on free school meals going on to further education has dropped by 21%. That is deeply concerning because the Government’s own assessment shows that the cuts will have a disproportionate effect on disabled people, women, older learners and people from industrial areas such as St Helens. The Government talk a good game about aspiration and creating a northern powerhouse, but in terms of encouraging people into higher education, that seems to be little more than rhetoric, certainly for the people in St Helens.
I will conclude shortly and allow colleagues the opportunity to speak. It is clear that more needs to be done so that people in St Helens North and the whole of Merseyside get the good-quality education they deserve. The area-based review of further education currently being undertaken will hopefully identify the shortfalls and offer solutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), Labour’s candidate for mayor of the city region, is passionate about education and creating opportunities, and I look forward to working with him to progress this agenda in all parts of the region, which I know he is committed to.
There should be fair and equal funding for children and young people across the country. Merseyside should not be left behind. I will work constructively with anyone who has a commitment to education and who wants to give children and young people the best start in life, but I am bound to say that the current Tory education policies are failing children, parents and teachers. While the Government obsess about school structures and bringing back selective education, budgets are falling. There are chronic teacher shortages and not enough school places. A good education should not be a privilege. It is every child’s right. I will continue to campaign in this House and in St Helens so that children and young people in my constituency and across Merseyside get the education to which they are entitled and which they deserve.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today, Sir Roger. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate. I am pleased to see the Minister in his place today. He has previously met me and other Knowsley MPs to discuss the current lack of sixth-form provision in the borough. Perhaps he will comment on progress in today’s debate.
My constituency spans parts of two local authorities: St Helens and Knowsley. We celebrate the success of Carmel sixth form, which has good numbers going to the redbrick universities, as does Rainhill High School and St Helens College, which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn). Schools in St Helens South and Whiston are improving year on year, and I congratulate Cowley International College, where I was a long-term governor, on its successful Ofsted rating of good.
A Social Market Foundation report showed that disadvantaged schools are more likely to have unqualified, inexperienced and inappropriately trained teaching staff. Many schools across the region are struggling with recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers and suffer from high staff turnover. In Knowsley, a part of my constituency, schools are particularly struggling to recruit quality teachers in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects. One highly incentivised recruitment programme for maths teachers attracted just one applicant. Quality teaching is a critical factor in pupil attainment. The recruitment crisis will only compound the ongoing attainment gap and inequality in education.
Teacher shortages mean that schools are forced to use supply teachers who are often not qualified in the subject matter to fill the void and at a much greater cost, further challenging financially constrained schools. The crisis has grown under this Government, and schools and local education authorities need support to tackle the problem now. Over the past five years, freezes to the dedicated schools grant have led to real-term cuts in funding. At the same time, schools have had to increase employer pension and national insurance contributions.
Research by the Association of School and College Leaders shows that 70% of schools are planning to cut the number of courses they offer. Lucy, a St Helens resident and pupil in my constituency, is a talented musician who plays the flute. She is presently studying grade 7 and was on course to reach grade 8 by the time she leaves school. However, owing to funding cuts, her school principal tells me it is no longer viable to run the music GCSE course, leaving Lucy and other children absolutely devastated. I hope the cuts do not spread out and affect our search for funding towards our theatre in Prescot in Knowsley.
Instead of focusing on giving headteachers the resources and support they need to recruit and retain permanent quality teachers and to improve the maximum attainment of pupils, the Government go on to waste millions on free schools in areas that do not need more places. We do not understand that where we serve our constituents.
The Government are obsessing over a return to the 1960s grammar school selective system, but grammar schools are not the answer to the problems of our local education systems. Evidence from the Commons Library shows grammar schools are not the golden ticket to social mobility that the Government would have us believe. In practice, grammar schools will create a magnet that draws more quality teachers and pupils away from comprehensives, leaving additional challenges of recruitment and retention, and therefore affecting the attainment of our pupils.
Evidence shows that grammar schools fail children with statements of special educational needs or education, health and care plans more than any other group. Just 0.1% of grammar school entrants have an SEN statement, compared with 2.8% of the total pupil population. Thousands of children with special educational needs are on the autism spectrum. The new special educational needs and disability code of practice states that support will routinely be put in place quickly when issues are picked up. However, access to diagnosis is a problem and routinely takes more than a year. I urge the Government to focus robustly on identification and speedy diagnosis.
Shamefully, evidence from the National Autistic Society shows that one in six pupils waits more than three years to get support, depriving them of the opportunity to get the best from their education. I urge the Minister to ask the Government to look again at how the new SEND system supports children with autism, and to look to provide local authorities with additional support in improving identification, delivery and transition in those children’s education.
There are local reports of a lack of provision for some of the hardest-to-help young people—especially care leavers and young offenders. Many people would turn their eyes away from them. Budget constraints mean that some providers are reluctant to take on pupils who need additional intensive support. Free and grammar schools will not select those children; they will be left to other schools to pick up, adding further to their challenges. I urge the Minister to consider those children, provide additional specific funding and focus on meeting their needs. They should not be left behind as they are at present. The Government should allow more flexibility in current funding, to ensure that those learners can remain in supported provision, to help them progress according to their individual needs.
Our local authorities and schools are committed, and are working hard. Governors work tremendously hard and parent support is high—it is needed in some areas. However, huge cuts to budgets mean that schools simply do not have the resources that are needed. It is high time the Government chose to spend efficiently in education. They should look at the needs that exist now, instead of going for frills that we simply cannot afford, while some children are denied the education that they should be entitled to. That is the only way we shall do away with inequality in education provision.
I am delighted to speak on this important issue, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this important debate. Often in Britain, and all too often on Merseyside, the place where people are born seems to determine where they end up in life, but education is a tool that offers young people the hope of going on to achieve their full potential. It can provide the ladder of opportunity for the next generation and education policy should primarily be designed to do that. It should not be a political football for any Minister or Secretary of State, attempting to impose a narrow sense of ideological entitlement on others. Schools in my constituency, and indeed across our city region, are proud of what they have achieved. The tireless work of our teachers, governors and staff has been mentioned by many hon. Members today. They devote their lives to getting the best out of children, but it has to be said that educational attainment is stronger in some areas of the city region than others.
I note the criticism of the mayor of Liverpool, Mayor Anderson, by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), but the city mayor has been asked to achieve something with one hand tied behind his back, partly because of some savage cuts inflicted by the coalition Government of which the hon. Gentleman was a member.
The excellent work of many in our schools is often hamstrung by factors outside their control. Research by the House of Commons Library suggests that in my constituency just 38% of students get five A* to C GCSEs, including English and maths. With a national average of 53.8% that puts us well behind, but that in no way reflects the effort of the schools and teachers. Although it is only 10 miles away, Wirral’s figure is seven percentage points above the national average, at 61%. It is easy to imply that schools need to do more and be better, as the Prime Minister said today. There has not been a Secretary of State in the past 50 years who has not trotted out the tired old mantra that we need more good schools, but improvement cannot be achieved without the collaborative efforts of parents, teachers and governors and, most importantly, it cannot be achieved without the Government’s political will to invest fully in children’s future.
For far too many pupils there is poverty of aspiration. In many cases we have failed to convince young people from working-class backgrounds that they can be the doctors, nurses and lawyers and even, God forbid, the political leaders of tomorrow. I bet that that is not the case in many of the schools that many on the Government Front Bench went to. The Government’s idea of harking back to the 1950s and an elitist education system by returning to the dreaded 11-plus will do nothing to increase the life chances of the majority of young people.
The grammar school system is designed to achieve the best not for all but for the selected few. How can the Prime Minister advocate grammar schools when she stood on the steps of Downing Street a few weeks ago and promised the British people that she would lead a Government that works for everyone? Grammar schools will segregate, not educate. They will polarise communities, not promote social cohesion. Grammar schools would once again stifle the prospects of many of the children who would inevitably see themselves as failures if they did not pass the entrance exam. As Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw put it, grammar schools will “put the clock back”. The desire for selection at 11 years old tells us all we need to know about the Government and how they see our precious education system. It is a microcosm of their entire political ideology. It will deliver for the few, not the many.
As my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby highlighted, teachers have voiced their concerns about upcoming Government proposals such as the prospect of a national funding formula and the added pressure to offer a more restricted curriculum because of the baccalaureate and progress 8. However, the new devolution deals provide an opportunity to transfer decision making and accountability to a local level. We currently face a situation in which the Government seek to devolve powers over industrial strategy and economic growth to metro mayors while fragmenting delivery and centralising accountability in the education system. That does not make sense. We have a ludicrous situation in which local education authorities continue to have statutory responsibilities under legislation such as the Education Act 1996 while having been deprived of any levers to pull to fulfil those duties and influence outcomes. For example, every secondary school in Knowsley is now an academy and is therefore much more accountable to the Secretary of State, through the schools commissioner, than to locally elected politicians, but—guess what?—local politicians get the blame when they are threatened with the withdrawal of A-level provision in the borough.
The problem in Merseyside is not the level of attainment of the top 20%; it is the level of attainment of the rest. We need an education system that lifts the attainment of all, not just those who are gifted and talented. That is why I am calling for the return of an element of local accountability. Education provides the building blocks for achieving the economic success we so desperately need, so the Minister should make the regional schools commissioner accountable to the metro mayor. I would appreciate it if he would address that issue specifically. That would afford the incoming metro mayor—and here I must declare an interest, Sir Roger—the opportunity to create a city region education strategy that could work collaboratively as the catalyst for sharing best practice. If elected metro mayor, I will introduce a pathways to excellence programme in our city region and help to raise educational attainment in each of the six districts, lifting the level of aspiration across all our communities, with no borough and no child left behind.
As metro mayor I want to harness the pool of talent that we have. I want to attract global businesses to locate into our area, offering the high-skilled, high-paid, high-aspiration jobs we need, as well as developing the new businesses that will lift our economy. However, developing a world-class workforce has to start at an early stage, and that has to be in our schools. The metro mayor does not have the responsibility, through the devolved powers they can use, to affect that, which is why we need a joined-up, consistent devolutionary approach between the Government’s industrial and education policies. I hope the Minister specifically addresses that point when he gets to his feet.
It is a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Sir Roger. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) for securing this debate and for giving us the opportunity to make contributions that cover a wide range of issues.
I want to start by picking up a theme that has been developed by the Opposition—that is, the question of grammar schools. Grammar schools are a complete and utter distraction from the things that we need to get to grips with in the short, medium and long term. We need to put that on the record. It is not ideological; it just does not work. People talk about going backwards. This is not just about going back to the ’50s—we will be going back before that and it really is not acceptable.
In a debate such as this, the question is where we begin with such a vast area to cover. There is the whole range, from early years right the way through to university education. I wanted to look at the issue systematically in my neck of the woods, so I wrote to a number of education charities and asked them whether they would be prepared to talk to me about an analysis—research potentially in collaboration with one of the local universities—of my constituency.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) referred to the fact that more than 35% of students in his constituency get grades A to C. The situation is broadly similar in my constituency, at about 40%. I want to tease out some issues related to that, because our schools do fantastic work. Teachers, governors and parents work hard. Day in, day out, they do the work that we ask them, but we can ask of them only so much.
I want to look beyond the narrower situation regarding education and try to determine what the other factors are. I have an idea what they are. In fact, a local group of headteachers came up with their views, serendipitously, and I will be working with them to tease them out. The issues were pupil welfare—diet, dental health, deterioration in accommodation, behavioural problems, mental health issues and stresses relating to the bureaucracy, as it is put. They have stresses and strains all over the place, and this is in an area with a partnership that has 24 schools, most of which are judged to be good or better, with two outstanding schools. One of those outstanding schools has had five outstanding Ofsted inspections on the trot, which I think is unprecedented. At this point, I pay tribute to the former headteacher of that school, Brian Mulroy, who died recently. He spent his life in education and was one of the men who got the school to that status. I put my thanks on the record for the work that he did, and he is not the only one who does such work and who puts their time and effort in, day in and day out.
What happens when the Government introduce things that result in the problems we have had with Concentrix recently? Hard-working families have been put under even more stress because their tax credits have been drawn away from them, and as a consequence, their children have not got free school meals. Whether we like it or not, that has an impact on children’s education. Those sorts of policies are not doing anybody any good. The late Chris Woodhead said that my constituency was doing fantastically against all the odds, and that is because we care for our children. Teachers and families do, and everybody tries to do their best, but they can do only so much.
The Government have to get to the stage where they stop the centralised control of education. Frankly, what Dorset does in relation to Dorset is a matter for Dorset. I do not care. Within parameters, it is for Dorset and any other place to get on with their education systems. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton in saying that we have to stop the atomisation and fragmentation of the education service, and the shilly-shallying around with structures yet again. We have to bring that responsibility back—that might mean bringing it back to the city region in collaboration with renewed and reinvigorated local education authorities. I support my hon. Friend and look forward to working with him on that.
We also have to put the resource in. There is something wrong when we have the situation we have in Merseyside. This is not about picking on other local authorities, but my local authority is the lowest-funded authority in Merseyside per pupil: we get about £300 less than Liverpool. However, we get £1,000 less than Westminster, and there is something wrong with that type of allocation of funding. Westminster is getting about £1,000 more per pupil than my constituency—that is quite shocking and it is just not acceptable. The Government should be getting to grips with that rather than fiddling about with grammar schools and the national formula. The history we have with this Government shows that they will fiddle the formula, which is exactly what they did with local government.
If we are to have a regime, let it be a localised one. If we are to have a funding formula, let it truly be a funding formula and let the children of my constituency get as much money as they need to get a decent education. That is the key.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and, for once in a while, to be in a room where we are not defending or advocating for airports in our constituencies.
If I may allude to the physical layout of the Chamber, the Minister should not feel too isolated. A lot of great speeches have been made from the Opposition Benches, but I am always reminded of a story that came to me from a speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth). There was a very controversial planning application in his area in the late 1960s for the safari park. He has talked with passion about work involving Shakespeare and the educational outcomes for the safari park, but the local councillor at that time was all on his own in supporting the development. One young, angry Knowsley resident stood up in a room of 700 and asked, with his baby in his arms, “What happens when one of those lions or tigers gets out on to the high street?” The crowd roared. This old councillor in his 80s—in Huyton, which was Harold Wilson’s constituency —rubbed his hair, sucked on his pipe and said, “Well, it’ll just have to take its chances, along with the rest of us.” If the Minister is feeling isolated, how does he think I feel as a Mancunian with all these Merseyside MPs right behind me? However, I have to say that since we built the ship canal in 1894, thanks to Daniel Adamson, the entente cordiale between our two great city regions has improved no end, so it is great to respond from the Front Bench in this debate.
Let us get on to the real issue at hand.
In my opinion, the Government have failed to build an education system—as a former teacher, I see this day in, day out—that provides opportunity for all. They are increasingly obsessed with structures—which matter—more than the outcomes for young people. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Peter Dowd) talked about shilly-shallying, and it is shilly-shallying of the first order. They are not tackling the key challenges facing our system: declining budgets and chronic shortages of teachers and places, as alluded to by a number of Members. They are failing to invest and our schools are facing, for the first time since the 1990s, real cuts to their funding.
As a teacher doing my teacher training course after Tony Blair got elected in 1997, part of my day job was going round with a bucket to try and catch the rain coming in from the roof. At the end of that Labour Government, if the roof had not been replaced, the school had been rebuilt, and the only thing going through the roof was children’s attainment. We have a very proud record of achievement in those 13 years.
There is still no certainty about how Merseyside will be affected by the Government’s proposed changes to the national funding formula. The Government continue to add to that uncertainty, despite the written ministerial statement on 21 July that the Secretary of State would set out proposals in Parliament in the early autumn. The Secretary of State still has not done that. It is important that the Government ensure that schools do not lose out as a result of changes in the funding formula.
Although the Labour party supports a fair national funding formula, we believe that it should be achieved by investing in all our schools, rather than by taking money away from some schools to give to others. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that school budgets will fall by 8% over the course of this Parliament, as the budget was protected in cash terms, rather than in real terms, meaning that the schools budget is at the mercy of rising pressures and pupil numbers, and the impact of inflation on its true value.
With inflation today rising to a two-year high and many predicting it will rise again in the wake of Brexit—particularly a chaotic Brexit without single market access, which is the course we are pursuing—schools are facing real-term cuts. We have already warned that the Government’s proposed new school funding formula will hit areas such as Liverpool. As my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) pointed out, Liverpool has seen a 65% cut in core funding. Labour supports fairer funding, but areas such as Liverpool are likely to take the big hit. There should be mitigation in the system to protect school standards and ensure that a loss of funding does not hamstring local areas.
If the northern powerhouse strategy is to mean anything, it must enable local communities to tackle the root causes of low attainment and it must improve special educational needs provision, as highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley. However, there was no SEN provision whatever in the Government’s recent schools paper, which included grammar schools. My hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Marie Rimmer) pointed out that we need SEN provision within our school system, particularly for people with autism. If the Government were really committed to fair funding, they would invest in schools instead of cutting schools’ budgets for the first time in nearly two decades.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on a terrific speech and on getting the subject on the agenda. I also congratulate Mayor Anderson, who appointed a commission for the city. We welcome, in principle, the introduction of the Liverpool challenge, and I hope the Minister matches our welcome.
The shadow Secretary of State has often mentioned how effective the London challenge was and how it provides a model for steps we could take to improve schools, with a focus on investment, leadership and collaboration. It would definitely be good to praise the initiative, which shows how Labour, in Labour areas, is taking steps to improve schools for all children, while the Government are pushing grammar schools, which would cause most children in our communities to lose out, as highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle.
I remember the introduction of the Manchester challenge in 2008. That was cut when the coalition Government came into power, because of austerity. The reason that the London challenge was successful and improved schools right across the region in which we currently sit was that it lasted for longer and more money was put behind it. The outcomes showed that we can improve every area of the country if we match that provision.
Labour has called for more powers to be developed in local areas to help to tackle educational underperformance. The elected metro mayor of Liverpool would be a good place to start. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram), but he says that if he is elected as Liverpool’s metro mayor next May—and I hope he will be—he will start with one hand behind his back because of the current powers.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby talked eloquently about the principle of subsidiarity. The Government seem to have nationalised the school system and privatised it at the same time. Today, the BBC is showing that the Government are taking away councils’ powers to set their own standards for maintained schools. That is a ridiculous system. Subsidiarity tells us that the best decisions are made close to the ground by the people who need to be involved. Labour will go back to that principle when we form a Government.
It is astonishing to think of the work that the Liverpool and Manchester city regions have done over the last few years—a devolved spatial strategy, business rates retention, a devolved skills strategy, a devolved housing strategy and devolved health and criminal justice strategies in Manchester—and yet for whatever reason we cannot seem to devolve the schools system. We already have regional Ofsted quality inspectors, so it is not beyond the wit of man to get a proper deal in place so that local politicians have more say and can help to improve standards.
The Education and Adoption Act 2016 goes in the opposite direction, further centralising powers in Whitehall and fragmenting our schools system, rather than giving local areas the powers and responsibilities to ensure a step change in our schools’ results. Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools, said that secondary education in our cities, particularly in Liverpool, is going into reverse, as the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) alluded to.
The chief inspector of schools also called on local politicians to act urgently and champion their schools. How do we do that? How do we show leadership? My hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, West Derby and for Bootle, and others, have championed those schools, but there should be powers as well. It is not the first time that the chief inspector of schools has highlighted concerns about secondary education in the north of England. In his annual report last December, he described his alarm over the emerging educational divide between north and south.
Turning to early years funding, it is clear that the Government’s proposals to offer 30 hours of free childcare a week are unravelling. As my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn) highlighted, this is the most critical time. In theory, a 30-hour free childcare entitlement would see a welcome reduction in childcare costs for families. However, it is clear that the Government’s reforms are risking the sustainability of early education providers and the quality of provision available.
We have seen the decimation of Sure Start units in our cities and, currently, 750 nursery providers across the country are under threat. Many providers are unsure how they will meet their financial and statutory commitments, which is unsurprising given that their situation was precarious even before the proposals were announced. Freedom of information requests reveal that nearly 75% of councils have been given funding levels over the past five years that have failed to keep pace with inflation.
Figures published by the Department for Education in its consultation on the new funding formula state that about 40 local authorities face further falls in rates. As a result, hundreds of nurseries across the country are publicly expressing their fears, with a comprehensive survey from the Pre-school Learning Alliance showing that 750 providers fear being put out of business by the current Government plans. That would be a disaster for areas such as Merseyside. Maintained nursery schools account for many of those providers, as they have had no supplementary funding guaranteed beyond two years as outlined by the Government. The Minister should take this opportunity to end the anxiety and uncertainty that exists for many childcare providers by offering the extra financial support that will allow them to cope with the pressures created by the Government’s new funding formula.
In conclusion, Labour remains fully committed to ensuring that all our young people are given the opportunity to succeed on whatever educational path they choose, and that their opportunities are based on what they aspire to, not on what they can afford.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Stephen Twigg) on securing this debate. I am sure he will agree that all of us in this room share the same ambition to see a country that works for everyone, in which all schools improve and every child has the opportunity to go to a good school and to fulfil their potential.
I welcome the shadow Minister to his post. This is our first debate together in Westminster, and I am sure there will be many more such occasions, with him remaining firmly on that side. Over the last six years, 600,000 new school places have been created. We have spent £5 billion on creating those new places, and we have committed a further £7 billion over the next period to create another 600,000 school places. There are 15,000 more teachers today than there were in 2010. There are 456,000 teachers in our schools, a record number. We are spending £1.3 billion in the next period, across four bursaries, to attract the best graduates into teaching and we are spending £40 billion on schools, which is a record high. Of course, all that can happen only if we have a strong economy and proper stewardship of public finances. We are addressing the historical unfairness of the school funding system. We have consulted on the principles of a national funding formula and we will move to the next stage in the autumn.
I have had the opportunity to visit probably more than 400 schools across the country over the last 12 years, and I am convinced that there are two components without which a school cannot be great. The first, of course, is high-quality teaching and leadership. A supply of high-quality teachers is needed at all levels, and we are continuing to focus on recruiting the best graduates, particularly in subjects such as science, maths and foreign languages, with the generous bursaries that I mentioned. We are ensuring that leaders have access to high-quality leadership development training, including through national professional qualifications, and we are introducing a new teaching and leadership innovation fund worth £75 million over three years. Thanks to the hard work of teachers and the reforms we have introduced over the last six years, there are now more than 1.4 million more pupils in good and outstanding schools than there were in 2010.
The second component needed for a great school is a stretching and knowledge-based curriculum. The national curriculum focuses on the key knowledge that schools should teach. It has been benchmarked against the highest-performing education systems in the world and will enable pupils to acquire a secure understanding of the key knowledge they need to go on to the next stage of their education, to contribute to our culture and to participate fully in our society.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby mentioned careers guidance. The Careers & Enterprise Company is working with local enterprise partnerships and with schools to boost employer engagement and help schools with their careers advice. The Careers & Enterprise Company’s enterprise adviser network allows it to share best practice—he asked about this—through all regions, particularly in disadvantaged and rural areas of the south-west and north-west.
The hon. Gentleman is right to ask how the new schools funding formula will affect schools in Liverpool and the Greater Merseyside area, and we are firmly committed to introducing a fair national funding formula for schools and high needs from 2018-19 onwards. We are taking the time to ensure that the formula is right. We have protected the core schools budget in real terms so that as pupil numbers increase, so will the amount of money for our schools. We are launching the second stage of the consultation in the autumn. At that stage we can say what the funding impact will be for schools in all areas.
The Government are also committed to protecting pupil premium rates for the duration of this Parliament. Schools in Liverpool are receiving more than £30 million this year through that funding stream to support the attainment of the most disadvantaged pupils.
I was recently at Our Lady and St Swithin’s Catholic Primary School in Croxteth in my constituency. One issue raised there was the impact of the provision of free school meals across key stage 1, which is resulting in fewer parents informing the school that their child would have been entitled to free school meals anyway. There is therefore a decline in pupil premium figures. Is the Minister familiar with that? If so, what are the Government doing about it?
We often hear that, and we are encouraging schools to encourage parents to register for free school meals, even though their child gets a free school meal anyway, so that their school does not lose the funding.
The right hon. Member for Knowsley (Mr Howarth) mentioned St Aloysius Catholic Primary School and funding for children with special educational needs. We have committed to reforming the funding system for pupils with high needs by introducing a national funding formula from 2018 for high needs as well as for schools. In 2017 we have protected local authorities so that no area will see a reduction in its high needs funding, which is in the context of our overall protection for the core schools budget in this Parliament. We have allocated an additional £93 million of high-needs funding for 2016-17.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. My key point is that under the current arrangement schools are getting an allowance even if they have no children with special educational needs, whereas schools that have large and growing numbers of children with special educational needs do not get enough from the allowance to cover their additional costs.
I hope all those issues will be addressed by the reforms to our funding system.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) mentioned funding for apprenticeships. We are spending £2.5 billion on apprenticeships by 2020, which is double the 2010-11 budget in cash terms, and we will top up employer levy contributions by 10% and provide 90% of the funding for employers that want to buy more apprenticeships.
It is important that children get the best start in life, which is why the Government are spending an additional £1 billion a year on the early years free entitlement, including £300 million a year to increase the national average funding rate. The Government are working to ensure that early years funding is distributed fairly and transparently throughout the country. On 22 September we concluded the consultation on the fairest way to distribute early years funding, and the proposals included a new approach, namely an early years national funding formula. The consultation has now closed and we are analysing responses. We will respond in the autumn.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way because I realise that time is tight. Will he address the specific issue of nursery schools? I think he will agree that nursery schools often provide a fantastic start for children, particularly in some of the most deprived neighbourhoods.
Yes. I have been addressing that by talking about the extra money for early years. As part of the consultation, we released indicative funding rates for local authorities and indicative and average hourly funding rates for providers in each local authority area. Based on our proposal, 75% of local authority areas stand the gain funding. The indicative rates show that the impact of the proposals in the Merseyside region will be mixed. It is therefore right that we look at each local authority area, rather than the region overall.
The Government are providing supplementary funding for maintained nursery schools for at least two years, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We know that maintained nursery schools bear costs over and above other providers because of their structure, and many also provide high-quality early education to disadvantaged children. The additional funding will provide much-needed stability to the nursery sector. We will be consulting on the future of maintained nursery schools in due course.
Thanks to the academies programme, schools have been released from the constraints that too often inhibited great teaching. The autonomy provided by the structural reforms has freed schools to innovate and pursue improved evidence-based teaching methods. Rather than a centralising approach, this is actually the ultimate in devolution.
Headteachers and other system leaders have seized this opportunity. As of the beginning of this month, there are 5,758 open academies and 345 open free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools. About a fifth of primary schools and two thirds of secondary schools are now academies. As the Secretary of State said to the Select Committee on Education in September, the Government want to see all schools become academies over time, and it is our hope and expectation that schools will want to continue to take advantage of the benefits that academisation can bring both to their own school and to others in the local area and throughout the country. We will continue to convert all schools that are failing to deliver an acceptable standard of education.
I am hesitant to give way because I have literally two minutes to go and I want to respond to some of the other points. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.
We also want to see good and outstanding schools choosing academy status so they can benefit from the freedoms associated with it. We will be building capacity across the country. We are also working with the archdiocese of Liverpool and the diocese of Liverpool to ensure that there are rapid improvements in other schools, such as the Academy of St Francis of Assisi in the constituency of the hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby. The Education and Adoption Act 2016 strengthens the Department’s powers to ensure that every failing school, whether maintained or an academy, receives the support it needs to improve. The Secretary of State will not hesitate to use these powers so that underperforming schools and academies are swiftly turned around.
Let me conclude by briefly talking about further education. A strong further education system is essential to ensuring that everyone in our society is empowered to succeed. We need to equip FE colleges to be high-status institutions that can confer similar advantages to traditional academic institutions.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).
Ministry of Defence Future Accommodation Model
[Mrs Madeleine Moon in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Ministry of Defence’s future accommodation model.
It is an honour to have you in the Chair for this debate on a most important subject, Mrs Moon. I asked for this debate to bring clarity and reassurance to our armed forces personnel and their families about their future accommodation provision. There is a Government commitment in the armed forces covenant to providing personnel and their families with good-quality accommodation, in the right location and at a reasonable price. I receive correspondence daily from families who are deeply anxious about the direction of the future accommodation model—FAM. There is a strongly held view among military families from every rank, in every service, that the Ministry of Defence intends to allow the present system, and its poor provision of existing service family accommodation, to degrade, so that the options put forward by FAM will seem less unpalatable.
The stated reason for looking at a new, more modern accommodation model is that service personnel want more choice over where, how and with whom they live, and greater support for those who would like to buy a new home. According to the MOD, FAM
“is aiming to provide a flexible system that meets different needs at different times—not dictated by rank”—
rank is not a factor now—
“age or marriage.”
Given those stated aims, which are laudable and forward-thinking for the modern family, will the Minister tell us why the MOD is not simply looking to expand the accessibility of service family accommodation—SFA—to that new, wider service personnel audience? The MOD states that FAM is designed to save costs, because the way accommodation is now provided means that there have to be a large number of vacant homes at any one time to allow for rotation, which means greater costs for the MOD, but in the same breath, it states that FAM will not reduce the total pot of money used to subsidise housing.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate; given the interest in it, perhaps a longer debate would have been worth while. She makes her case well, and I invite her to extend her view to cover veterans. In the light of her interest in the military covenant, will she challenge the Minister on that angle, too?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the key problem is the price that service families have to pay for their accommodation? It has been creeping up and up, and I am not aware—perhaps she can enlighten me—whether the Armed Forces Pay Review Body has factored that into its annual determination.
I am afraid that I am not privy to the details of the pay review body’s work, but perhaps the Minister will answer that question for us later. I would also be grateful if he set out the present annual net cost of the SFA offer, to give the military families watching, who are very concerned, some idea of the funding available if they have to work with one of the proposed new options. We need to look starkly at what the FAM proposes, in terms of realistic housing accessibility from the private rental and purchase housing markets; realistic cost implications for families; and the real impact of the military community being broken up, leaving families unsupported at times of deployment.
This is a huge issue for military families and serving people in particular. Does my hon. Friend agree that if we do not get this right, it will have a catastrophic effect on our retention figures? We will find even more people leaving the service, which would be pretty awful, to say the least.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One key reason why I ask the Minister to reconsider the FAM is that it is unlikely to save the MOD money, because of the national housing shortage, and is likely to create a massive retention risk to our already undermanned and overstretched armed forces. Will the Minister tell the House exactly what he believes the existing housing offer costs the MOD in total, after rents received?
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this wonderful debate, which is timely and important. Does she agree that one of the challenges is the inconsistency in the quality of accommodation? New accommodation in Stafford is extraordinary, but if it is made subject to a market rent, it will not be affordable to most service personnel.
I thank the hon. Lady for raising one of the key questions. One of the great anxieties that families come to me with is the fear that the realities of private rental markets will be too costly to cope with, both for the MOD and individual families.
Will the Minister tell us what ongoing saving he wants to see in order to justify the vast upheaval and risks that bringing in the FAM would cause? Failing to meet our armed forces covenant commitment on housing by inventing a set of proposals that military families are appalled by, rather than extending the existing imperfect but workable service family accommodation model, will result in a mass exodus of experienced and highly trained military personnel.
My hon. Friend visited RAF Odiham not long ago. I am sure that she will recall that 95 bed spaces have been condemned there, and 97% of the 674 still available are grade 4—the worst-quality accommodation. Does she agree that that is a false economy, because so many spaces are no longer being used and are no longer sought after?
I recall our visit to RAF Odiham well; we were frightened nearly to death in a Chinook. Getting housing provision right—particularly behind the wire, as at Odiham—is critical to keeping those highly trained personnel. An ambitious young Army officer said to me just the other day:
“Is FAM aiming to encourage home ownership, with tools such as Help to Buy, or force personnel into home ownership? If it’s the latter, that just isn’t going to work.”
Let us turn to the FAM survey, which was apparently sent out to all serving personnel—some 190,000 men and women. First, I ask the Minister why that survey was not made mandatory, as surveys are a great deal of the time; there was a recent mandatory survey on the language skill sets of serving personnel. Anyone would think that the MOD was happy to mandate, where that suited its agenda, but that for the FAM, despite housing being a vital component of the offer for our armed forces and their families, a lower response rate better suited the MOD’s case for driving change, regardless of military families’ complex housing needs and views.
Moreover, more than 40,000 people have been excluded from answering the survey because they are deemed to be a member of a protected group, including the special forces, the military provost guard service, those based in Northern Ireland, those on full-time reserve service contracts, those under 18 and unspecified others working with those groups. Apparently the MOD will ask their opinion separately, but that has not yet happened, and those groups quite rightly feel more than a little aggrieved that their views have not yet been sought. Their families are living with uncertainty about the future of SFA, just like all the others. Will the Minister set on the record when those 40,000 or more personnel will get their chance to have their say?
Secondly, of those who received the survey, many were unable to access it because their service number, which was being used as their access token, failed to be recognised by the survey designers’ coding. Will the Minister confirm how many personnel fell through the cracks as a result of that failure? The message received by personnel was:
“If your service ID is rejected during login it means you will be unable to complete the FAM survey, because either it is not a valid armed forces service ID or you are part of a group that is not covered by the survey.”
Unsurprisingly, at that point many personnel stopped trying and simply gave up. I would find it quite insulting to be told that my service ID was not valid, and I know that many of those who put their life on the line for us all did, too. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified how many tried to access the survey but could not get in, and how many started it but failed to complete it because, as one engineer said to me,
“the whole survey just seemed like they had made up their minds that there will be change and we’ll have to lump it.”
Thirdly, many were put off from doing the survey because, as one nurse put it:
“‘This is a completely anonymous survey, please use your service number to log in’ doesn’t make me feel secure about speaking out.”
By my maths, if the Department has recorded 27,997 completed submissions, that is about a 14% return. If that is to be the basis of the evidence, we need to look closely at the questions that were and were not asked. Here we get to a key problem with the survey, and the Minister’s clarification on this point today would be helpful in reducing the sense of fait accompli that so many service families have shared with me. The survey that personnel saw on screen gave four choices; SFA remaining was not there as a fifth choice. Much later in the survey, question 24 asked:
“If SFA were available to you with the same cost as the renting package, would you want to live in SFA instead?”
That was not mandatory or part of the options offered for the FAM. As one pilot said to me,
“we were annoyed that there was no option to keep SFA, forcing us to tick another option. In a few years, when this goes ahead, they will say ‘you asked for this, look at the survey results’”.
It turns out that those who failed to get past the service ID challenge, but then nagged the team running the FAM survey, eventually received an email that asked
“which of the potential new options”
for the FAM
“do you think you would go for & why? Or would you still want to live in SFA? And why?”
If we are to give any credence to future decisions taken on a housing offer that moves away from SFA, it is vital that we are clear about who replied to which questions. A rifleman asked me whether the aim of the survey was simply to justify the dismantling of SFA, and said that to claim otherwise would be a lie, as the survey would have asked wider questions if its aim was not to justify the dismantling. Perhaps the Minister can reassure that young man and the other 196,000 personnel on that point and say that data from the survey will not be used as the basis for dismantling SFA, as so few serving personnel have been asked whether SFA is a model that they would like continued.
The Army Families Federation’s “Big Survey” report on the future of military housing highlights the critical importance of SFA in the offer; only 22% of those surveyed said that they would definitely remain in the Army if SFA was reduced and a rental allowance was offered in its place. How much has the MOD paid to Deloitte to create and manage the survey? Did Deloitte or the MOD design the impractical proposed solutions, which bear little relation to how most of the military family actually live? Will the Minister confirm whether any working group with representatives from family federations, service personnel, spouses from all ranks, SSAFA, the Defence Infrastructure Organisation and industry experts was set up? Is FAM and its four options—single living accommodation without family; renting near work; owning near work; or owning away from work, and therefore renting too—what such a broad group would have come up with?
As one naval wife said to me:
“Filling out the survey just feels like MOD justifying its forced changes and we are some part of sanctioning that. That’s why I haven’t filled it out”.
Although our Navy personnel are more likely to own their own home than those from the other services, because they are away from their families for six to nine months at a time, even the Naval Families Federation survey on FAM indicated clearly that more than 50% would prefer to live in SFA than receive a rental allowance.
An RAF wife who has moved her family seven times in 15 years highlighted just why the flexibility of SFA is so important to retention:
“Many occasions we have been posted with less than a month to move. With having to look for work, schools and everything else they want to put the pressure on me to look for a home? We don’t know the area and rely heavily on the knowledge that a quarter is in a good position with community support from other service families. The new FAM will isolate us all from that network, as well as putting strain on our family life. Seems as though the armed forces are losing the one thing that appealed to families and that was that they would look after us.”
The RAF Families Federation survey on FAM supports that family’s view, with 95% of those surveyed saying that being able to move with the serving person and live together as a family is important, and 63% highlighting the value of the accommodation being sourced and provided by their employer.
Another part of the jigsaw is the question of the footprint strategy that the MOD will publish shortly. Part of the DIO’s remit was to reduce the built footprint of MOD assets by 30% by 2020. That is 30% of all property by square footage. Although the SFA portfolio was sold off to Annington Homes back in 1996, the leaseback arrangement set in place means that the DIO keeps all the maintenance and improvement responsibility for as long as it keeps these properties on its books. The MOD negotiated with Annington Homes a 58% rent discount on all the properties, which will come to an end in 2021.
I asked to intervene because I am concerned that in Northern Ireland the MOD might be demolishing some of its houses in Ballykinler. The hon. Lady is being very constructive in addressing the issue; we need to see the same in Northern Ireland. Instead of demolition, there should be retention for the future.
We are looking at the issue in Northern Ireland as well.
Will the Minister give us details of any negotiations that have started with Annington Homes on a new rental framework, which would ensure that a continued level of subsidised rents could be provided to military families? My concern is that the MOD intends to hand back the bulk of the homes, and then allow Annington to rent them to service families on a private rental market arrangement, whether behind the wire or not. That would meet the 30% reduction target, but would no doubt do nothing to reduce the overall costs of subsidising housing—that is, if the MOD actually intends to price the FAM offer at a level that families find acceptable, and that allows them to choose to remain in the armed forces.
I hope that the Minister can persuade me that I am wrong, but my deep concern is that the DIO was set a financial rationalisation target without any reference to the retention risk to our human capital, and that no one in the MOD is balancing out the potential financial savings of bringing in FAM with losing the security and support of SFA. In my opinion, and that of many of our leading military leaders, our armed forces personnel are working at unsustainable levels of undermanning. If we reduce SFA—with its security, safety and community for families, and with the practicalities it offers, despite the shortcomings of the present maintenance contracts for short notice postings and so on—we risk losing many experienced personnel to the private sector, and we open up a long-term retention problem, thereby reducing the effectiveness, flexibility and world-renowned reputation of the British military.
I will not, as I do not have time.
If what I just described were to happen, it would have financial and military implications for a generation. The British people would never want to hear that the MOD had put cost saving over operational effectiveness, most especially for our human capital: the men and women who put their lives on the line for us.
The MOD’s strategic defence and security review 2015 states that Joint Force 2025 and Britain’s defence will continue to depend on the commitment, professionalism and skills of our people. Recruiting, retaining and developing the right people is therefore a top priority for the MOD. The SDSR talks about a new accommodation offer to help more service personnel to live in private accommodation or own their own homes. Perhaps the Minister can answer the question that goes to the heart of whether the Government believe in the armed forces covenant commitment, which is summed up by a highly qualified and valued member of our armed forces— I have the greatest honour of being his voice today:
“Is the implementation of FAM a deliberate attempt to destroy and de-professionalise our armed forces? Given that housing is a tiny proportion of the MOD budget, why get rid of the SFA, which means so much to so many?”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan) on securing this debate. I know that she, like me, cares deeply about the wellbeing of our personnel. Her constructive contribution to the Public Accounts Committee report will help significantly to improve service accommodation. She asked an awful lot of very detailed questions. I can assure her that I will not be able to cover them all in the 12 and a half minutes remaining. I shall therefore start, if I may, with an apology, and an assurance that for any detailed questions I cannot cover—there will be many—I will write to her. I appeal to my hon. Friends present that, if they can limit their interventions, I may be able to attempt to respond to the debate.
I am not going to pretend that the Government record on accommodation has been an unqualified success in recent years. It has not. Issues with CarillionAmey have been well documented, not least by the PAC. Things are improving, but there remains much to do. Like my hon. Friend, I am absolutely determined to see this through and to ensure that improvements to our service family accommodation are carried through.
Nevertheless, the focus of the debate is not on the past but on the future. As our troops return from Germany and we look to rationalise our estate, we have realised that there is an unprecedented opportunity to do more for our people—an opportunity to give them greater stability, so that they do not feel they are being asked to up sticks at a moment’s notice.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Our future accommodation model is part of the mechanism for achieving this goal of greater stability. Its benefits are not well understood, so I would like to use today’s debate to explain why I believe it will be a vast improvement on what has gone before.
First, it will be fairer. As the Public Accounts Committee acknowledged, the current model has failed to move with the times. Let me give just one example. A married senior officer will be assigned a four-bedroom home even if they have no children or other dependents, and will usually pay just £350 to £450 a month for it. By contrast, an unmarried member of the junior ranks, with a partner of 10 years and two children, is entitled to nothing more than a single bedroom in a block. If they move out to the private sector to live with their family, it could cost them well over £1,000 a month. I am determined to make the model based on need, not rank, and I am determined that it should reflect modern society.
Secondly, the model will be more flexible. Times have changed. The sort of arrangements people were happy with when I joined the Army in 1988 are no longer applicable today. Some want to live closer to their spouse’s workplace. Some want to live among the civilian community. Some want to own their own home. Some, who are single, want to share with a friend or get on the housing ladder. Currently, however, our personnel have to like it or lump it. If they choose to go it alone, we cut the purse strings and they get nothing—they get no assistance, whether financial or otherwise, from the MOD. That simply is not fair and does not make business sense to a Department looking to release parts of its estate and expand in other areas. Why spend on new accommodation if it is not even wanted in some parts?
In future, we are going to give service personnel the choice of who they live with, where they live and what sort of home they live in. No longer will it be a one-size-fits-all model. We will now support servicemen and women who want to live in the private sector by subsidising rent, taking account of the geographic differences in rent when they are required to move. Alternatively, we will help them to buy a home. We have already made a start on that through our forces Help to Buy scheme, which the Government have extended to 2018.
My last point is that our future model will be affordable. I do not mean that it is an exercise in indiscriminate cost cutting, but the current regime is characterised by chronic wastefulness. To answer the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed directly, we spend about £1 billion on our accommodation and get about £200 million back in charges.
One in five service homes is empty at any one time to ensure, as I have described, that the right home is always available to the right rank. We spend £2 for every £1 of subsidy our personnel receive. We spend about £1 billion in total on accommodation, but nearly a quarter of personnel do not benefit from that. With the majority of our accommodation already owned by third parties and the cost to the MOD linked to market rents, costs are set to rise, but we can do better, not least because the money can be recycled back into the defence budget.
On the subject of affordability and efficiency, some are concerned that any savings we make could be undermined by a lower rate of retention—my hon. Friend made that point—and by dissatisfied personnel choosing to leave the armed forces earlier. In response to that, I would say that this programme is about finding the best way to make things better for our men and women. It is not about weighing up any savings we might make in accommodation against the cost to retention. We hope that our changes would diminish that risk, rather than exacerbate it. We are planning to begin piloting the future accommodation model towards the end of 2018.
Let me make three things clear. First, we are not getting rid of all service family accommodation. We know that there are benefits to the existing system—not least the sense of community it generates. In some areas, the absence of a significant rental market would make the system’s removal unworkable. In other areas I have visited, such as Ludgershall on Salisbury plain, we will be building new service family accommodation due to an increased demand as a result of the Army coming back from Germany. If we plan to scrap all service family accommodation, why are we building new service family accommodation? These are the sorts of myths that we have to try to tackle. I recognise that part of the problem has been the communication piece, and I hope that this debate will begin to address that.
What is clear is that the solution needs to be tailored to each location. What might work in London will not work in Benbecula. The amount of service family accommodation retained will differ from location to location, based on demand, operational constraints and achieving the best value for money, but reducing service family accommodation will give us more flexibility and allow us to support more personnel to live how they want to live. We are looking at options that would not guarantee service family accommodation for everyone who wants it, but that is exactly the case today. I cannot guarantee service family accommodation for everyone who wants it, which is why we have other ways of providing accommodation. I can guarantee that we would support those personnel to find and live in a home.
Secondly, we cannot take these decisions without listening to what our people want. That is why we have been consulting extensively with service personnel, taking on board the findings of the Public Accounts Committee report and the Families Federation accommodation surveys, which also include our own survey. My hon. Friend mentioned that, and I will come back to her in detail on some of the questions she asked about the survey. Personally, I do not think that 28,000 responses is a particularly poor response rate. If Members spoke to Ipsos MORI, it would say that the surveys are based on the percentage of people who reply. The statistical analysis can then be used to form the opinion, in the same way that we have opinion polls for general elections, although they were not particularly successful.
To expand on the subject of our survey, some people have suggested that it was written in a leading way, to draw people down a specific path. I would like to put that notion to rest by saying that that was unequivocally not the case. It was in fact written in consultation with Ipsos MORI and Defence Statistics with the aim of producing an unbiased set of questions, as all surveys worth the paper they are written on should be. Clearly my hon. Friend does not think the survey was unbiased, and I take that on board, but that was definitely the objective. The survey’s purpose was to understand people’s choices when presented with future accommodation model options. It also included a question asking whether respondents would prefer to remain in service family accommodation, but the programme is not about the future accommodation model versus service family accommodation; it is about coming up with a more flexible model that suits the varied needs of all.
Thirdly, at this point I should be clear that no final decisions have been made. Nothing is set in stone. The whole purpose of the consultation at this point is to offer a series of options, to listen to our service personnel and to try to find a model that suits them. It is all about putting our people first.
We have had a well-informed and valuable debate today. We all share the same fundamental desire to ensure that those who serve us are well provided for. The views of my hon. Friends—several have contributed—and those of our constituents will continue to shape our plans, but I have no doubt that the future accommodation model will provide our people with greater choice and greater stability. The old system is outdated. We are updating it so that it is fit to meet the needs and expectations of modern families in the 21st century. I am absolutely determined to deliver a system of accommodation for our service personnel that is fit for the 21st century and, crucially, for them.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Ministry of Defence’s future accommodation model.
South-west Agriculture and Fishing
Before I call Scott Mann to move the motion, I remind Members that this debate will end at 5.41 pm. If Members wish to speak in the debate, could they please stand after Scott Mann has sat down so that I can be sure who is here to speak and who is here to intervene? I will give priority to Members from the south-west.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the effect of the UK leaving the EU on agriculture and fishing in the south west.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon, and I am grateful to be able to introduce this debate today. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on her appointment in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Our farmers work incredibly hard in the south-west. They are the beating heart of our economy. I, like many, campaigned to leave the European Union to help our farmers and fishermen get a better deal. I believe that they have suffered under the EU and that Brexit will offer them more freedom and prosperity. South-west farmers manage 38% of Britain’s dairy herd and directly support over 8,000 jobs, with thousands more employed in the wider agricultural sector. The farmers and fishermen in the south-west will be directly affected by Brexit— I believe for the better.
There will be big benefits for fishermen in leaving the EU. They have suffered under the EU and its common fisheries policy and taking control of our territorial waters will only benefit. They get a very thin slice of the pie when it comes to quotas and that must change.
For farmers, the situation is slightly different and it is right that we try to offer them confidence as we head towards the exit door. They rely on the EU for farm subsidies and for tariff-free trade. Importantly, they also count on the EU for foreign labour, which is a particularly sensitive issue. On one hand, farmers say they want to continue having migrant workers; on the other hand, millions of people are calling for lower immigration. It is imperative that we strike the right balance.
In place of the EU’s common agricultural and fisheries policies, I would like to see a British agricultural policy and a British fisheries policy. The National Farmers Union would like a domestic agricultural policy that establishes a stable consensus on what farming can deliver for the economy, consumers and the environment. It is imperative that we continue to guarantee farm subsidies and I was pleased that the Chancellor has done so until 2020, which gives south-west farmers some much needed certainty. Farm payments must be processed faster than currently—I have had so many farmers complain to me about the Rural Payments Agency and the penalties that are imposed on them without any prior communication or justification.
My hon. Friend is making a very strong case for the south-west. My constituency, Taunton Deane in Somerset, is very reliant on farming. Does my hon. Friend agree that farmers do not want their livelihoods to be jeopardised during the two-year period of negotiations on how to leave the EU? They are asking for leeway, and whether we could still remain within the single market during that period.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I will come on to the single market later in my speech. We need to be on the side of farmers, not working against them. A better subsidy system can certainly be achieved in the short term to install confidence.
We need actively to promote British produce at home and abroad. Leaving the single market is a fantastic opportunity to turn our attention to food producers and to become less reliant on imports, which can leave us at the mercy of currency markets. By making our agricultural sector much more diverse and profitable, Britain’s food chains could become more sustainable and less reliant on imports.
One avenue open to the Government is food procurement for our public services. Out of the EU, the Government could choose British food produce to supply our civil service, our schools and our armed forces. A policy and ethos of British food for British institutions would help our farming sector grow and be at the very heart of Government.
It is imperative that our farmers have access to labour. Certainly in the short and medium term, our farmers need access to workers from the EU. Just like British workers, EU migrants work incredibly hard—this debate is a good opportunity to highlight the contribution that they make to the economy in the south-west. According to statistics from the National Farmers Union, approximately 57% of workers in the meat sector and 40% in the egg sector are from within the EU. As we move forward, it is important that we balance the flow of migrant seasonal workers with the need to control immigration. I believe we can do both out of the EU. The National Farmers Union is in the process of drawing up its Brexit policy. One of its suggestions is the introduction of a seasonal agricultural permit scheme that would grant 12-month visas.
A British agricultural policy should champion agricultural employment, with joined-up initiatives from Whitehall for young and unemployed people to help them find work on farms. With such a policy we could end the nonsense of the three-crop rule and farmers being unable to bury their dead stock.
I would like a British fisheries policy that tears up the EU’s awful common fisheries policy. Restricted by the 12-mile limit, our fishermen have been treated extremely unfairly. It is time we addressed that and took back control of our territorial waters. Our south-west fishermen have felt like second-class citizens for far too long. We absolutely must stop that. British fishermen must be given priority, in parallel with the UK Government overseeing the management and conservation of fish stocks and quotas.
Under a British fisheries policy, Britain could extend its exclusive economic zone from 12 to 200 miles from the shore, as specified by the UN international convention on the law of the sea. With those waters, Britain could absolutely have control over its quotas, permits and conservation. Currently, the fishermen in the south-west are getting a very raw deal. For example, of the 4,500 tonnes of cod that can be landed, our fisherman only get 8%, while French boats get 74%; and of the 7,200 tonnes of haddock that can been landed, we only get 10%, while the French receive 67%. Those are not isolated examples—the same can be said for pollock, plaice, sole, hake and whiting.
Away from the sea, it is vital that we support our fishing communities in Cornwall, the south-west and around the rest of the UK. I have already had assurances from the fisheries Minister and his Department that they will offer support for fishing communities, and I hope the Minister will give me the same assurance today.
One big issue for fishing in the south-west is whether we allow European boats in UK waters and vice versa. There is definitely a balance that needs to be struck, as fish migrate around the coastline. With up to 80% of the fish caught in the south-west being exported to EU countries, it is important that we strike that balance, so that exports are not harmed and we maintain a good relationship with our EU counterparts. That said, our ability to strike free trade deals will also open up global markets for our high-quality shellfish and wet fish.
We need our farmers and fishermen in the south-west to have confidence in the process as we withdraw ourselves from the European Union. In the short term, we need to build confidence as an existing member. In the medium term, we need to lay out how we will secure and enhance our fishing and farming sectors. In the long term, we need policies in place that are more democratic and supportive, where our fishing and farming voices can be heard, and which are fully accountable to this place, Westminster, and not to Brussels.
There is so much potential for our farming and fishing sectors in the south-west. Over the next two years, I look forward to hearing how the Government plan to give a fairer deal and how we can grow our economy in the south-west as a result.
Order. Because of the number of Members who have indicated their wish to speak, with the authority of the Chairman of Ways and Means I am imposing a time limit of four minutes on speeches by Back Benchers. If many interventions are made, I may have to reduce that limit.
I will endeavour to stick to that time limit, Mrs Moon.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this debate. As he rightly says, leaving the EU has massive potential implications for agriculture and fisheries. I was very pleased by the assurance given by the Secretary of State in the House last week, in response to my question, that she would guarantee the current standards in environmental protection, so I will put those issues to one side for a moment.
The hon. Gentleman pointed, very rightly, to the importance of free trade within the European Union to both our agricultural and fisheries sectors. We export almost 40% of our lamb to the rest of the EU. He mentioned that we export 80% of the fish caught off the south-west. In my view, the best shellfish, crab and lobster in the world comes from the coast around Devon and Cornwall, but sadly, most of it goes straight to markets in France and Spain. I was not surprised when I saw the headline in the Western Morning News this week, which made very clear that our farmers’ main priority in the whole debate is that we remain members of the single market.
My first question for the Minister, therefore, is whether she is committed, as her first priority for the UK, to remain as a member of the single market. That is vital not only for tariff-free trade, but for access to the important labour mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, on which a lot of our farming and food industry completely depends.
If the Minister and the Government are not to accord importance to staying in the single market, I would like to know why not. If, as seems to be the case, the Government have already given up any hope of staying in the single market because of their wrong-headed and self-damaging obsession with cutting migrant labour, what levels of tariffs would she expect to be imposed on the sorts of the goods that we have been talking about, both agricultural and from fisheries, and what level of damage does she anticipate that that will do to our farming and fisheries sectors?
We have heard worrying reports that the Secretary of State for International Trade wants us to leave the European customs union. That would be an absolute disaster for our agriculture and fisheries sectors, and hit our economy with a fall of 4.5% in our overall GDP and a far worse fall for agriculture and fisheries. Has the Minister assessed the impact that leaving the customs union would have on our fishing and farming sectors? I will also be grateful if she could give us some idea of the expected impact on consumer prices, and imported food prices in particular, not only from the collapse in the value of the pound owing to uncertainty about our access to the single market, but from the increased prices that west country consumers will pay for goods if we leave the European Union, or are outside the single market or, even worse, outside the customs union.
Finally, given the importance of all those questions to the future of the important sectors that we are discussing, will the Minister guarantee to publish a full cost-benefit analysis of the possible and potential options for our future relationship with the rest of Europe and the world, so that the public and Members of the House may make a considered judgment before we are asked to vote on anything? Does she agree that it would be absolutely unacceptable for the Government, without consulting Parliament, precipitately to invoke article 50 as soon as March before we have clear answers to those important questions on which the future of our farming and fishing industries depend?
I can make my points to the Minister short. On farming, may I first make a plea for any priority for domestic agriculture policy to include the concept of food security? Food security has been a principle much spoken of but rejected by successive Governments, including the one in which the preceding speaker, the right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw), served so honourably and in such a distinguished capacity. However, food security is vital, and therefore a vital component of any domestic agriculture policy.
Equally importantly, it is also vital for us to promote our agriculture in a way that we have failed to do in recent decades. The Dairy Council is the organisation charged with the promotion of the health benefits of dairy products, but it is not charged with the kind of marketing and advertising function that we see in countries such as New Zealand. I therefore urge the Minister to take from the debate my suggestion, and that of many dairy farmers throughout the country, that we need an agency or organisation that is devoted to the activity of marketing and promoting the fantastic dairy products of this country. The Dairy Council is not an organisation that is suited to that end because it is based on a research function rather on a marketing one.
We need to get behind British agriculture; we need to promote and advertise it in a way that we have not for many years; and we need a domestic policy that prioritises food security and domestic production. We also need a policy that decides very quickly what we will and will not support by way of direct Government grant.
On fishing, my plea to the Minister is to let any policy we design be based on local, sustainable fishing fleets that support coastal communities. This is our opportunity to ensure that a domestic fishing industry revives in the coastal communities that have been so hard pressed in recent years. It is our opportunity to deploy intelligence and flexibility, and to do away with blanket bans—despite the plentifulness of certain species of fish in the Bristol channel, we have a ray ban, a spurdog ban and bans that fishermen local to the area know are not right or intelligent. Instead, such bans should be flexibly designed. Any policy must support the interests of those fragile coastal communities.
The key areas and priorities that I urge the Minister to take away, therefore, are promoting, getting behind and marketing our British agriculture; and support and sustenance for coastal communities and local, sustainable fishing fleets.
It is a pleasure, as ever, Mrs Moon, to see you in the Chair.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing the debate. It will not surprise him to hear that I do not agree with him about the benefits of the vote on 23 June for British agriculture and fisheries. The food and farming sectors face very real threats from Brexit. I appreciate that there are opportunities too, but I am already worried about the extent to which people have seized on the idea of those opportunities, because to some extent they fly in the face of what we know to be the Government’s agenda. In particular, in the context of protecting the natural environment, the Environmental Audit Committee, of which I am a member, is already looking at the impact of Brexit on the managed landscape and the natural environment. Yes there are certainly opportunities to improve how we do things, but I am less than optimistic that those opportunities will be seized.
It is also important to stop using the European Union as an excuse for some of the deficiencies in policy. For example, the allocation of quotas between the smaller and larger fleets is to a large extent in the hands of the UK Government—the decision can already be made by them without the need for agreement with our European partners.
In the two and a half minutes I have left, I will talk about labour and workforce issues, and what restrictions on freedom of movement would mean for the sector. It has been estimated that 90% of British fruit, vegetables and salad are harvested by 60,000 to 70,000 seasonal migrant workers, many of whom come from the accession countries of eastern Europe. The vast majority come from other EU countries, and we need to answer the question of what would happen to the labour supply if we placed restrictions on freedom of movement, and whether it is something that can be dealt with through seasonal visas.
There is a fear that ill-thought-through restrictions on freedom of movement will mean that crops go unharvested, hitting food supplies, food production and farmers’ incomes, eventually putting them out of business. As we have heard, food sovereignty—food security—is a real issue in this country. At the moment, we produce less than 60% of the food that we eat, and 40% of the fruit and vegetables that we consume come from the EU. Things that can be grown here ought to be grown here, but that needs a supply of labour as well.
Last week, in Parliament I attended an interesting event organised by the Food and Drink Federation. Food manufacturers were talking about the impact of Brexit on them. I must admit that I had not realised the extent to which they depend on a skilled workforce from other European countries. They said that 27% of their workforce are non-UK EU citizens. Of course, some of those are at the lower end of the scale, filling the jobs that people perhaps do not want, or perhaps people are not prepared to work for below the living wage. Those businesses estimate that they will need 130,000 new skilled workers by 2024 and they were not confident that the Government’s existing policies on apprenticeships and on encouraging people to study the relevant subjects at university would pay off. They are already having difficulty recruiting and, understandably, their employees are already worried.
We had a debate in the main Chamber today about what will happen to EU migrants who are currently working in this country and whether they will be allowed to remain. What restrictions on freedom of movement will mean for both low and high-skill jobs is a real issue. I hope the Minister is discussing that with her colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union, the Home Office and the other Departments involved.
I congratulate and commend my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), who is my neighbour, on securing this important debate. Since the result on 23 June, I have met large groups of both fishermen and farmers, and although we all recognise that the journey ahead will not be easy or smooth, what they are asking for is quite straightforward and should easily be accommodated. Their priority is simply for experts in their sectors to be sat around the negotiating table so their expertise is fully understood and contributes to the debate about how we move forward beyond 2019.
Fishermen in the south-west ask that we finally recognise that fish stocks in the west of England are different from those in other parts of the UK, where fishermen target a particular catch. When fishermen in the west of England put their nets out, they often do not know what they are going to catch. It is a mixed fishery, and the quota system has struggled to recognise and accommodate that. Those fishermen ask that we properly recognise their challenge when it comes to fishing in a mixed fishery. They also ask that they get a fair share of the total allowable catch. We all understand and know about the weighting against UK fishermen. Fishermen in other European countries are able to catch a much larger share in UK waters than UK fishermen, who are sometimes allowed to catch as little as 11% of a particular species. UK fishermen are asking that that situation is made fair.
I turn now to what farmers and food producers are asking for. I understand that under current EU regulations, as my hon. Friend referred to, we in the United Kingdom are not able to tell our public sector organisations that they must prioritise buying British produce. Because of that legislation, and because those organisations are not allowed to choose British producers over those from other European countries, UK food producers potentially lose out on billions of pounds. It would be fantastic to know that, during the negotiation and as we move forward, the Government will lead the way in buying British wherever possible and do everything they can to ensure that the British public know where their food comes from and the farmer receives a fair price. That alone will help significantly to mitigate the challenge that farmers and food producers face.
Both farmers and fishermen have requested that the Government promote fishing and farming as worthwhile jobs with secure futures. Parents often do not see that fishing and farming have futures for their children, and we need to do much more to encourage young people to take up those skills and increasingly high-tech fishing and farming jobs.
Finally, however we manage the movement of labour from outside the UK’s borders into the UK, we must not impose unnecessary barriers to foreign workers. We must strike the right balance so that our farmers and fishermen continue to enjoy the skills and labour that are available from countries around the world.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann), who is a fellow south-west MP, on securing this important debate. This is the second debate in just over a week to which south-west Members have turned up en masse—to stand up first for tourism and now for agriculture.
I cannot claim to have any significant commercial fishing in my patch, but I have a lot of farming and I know how concerning the impact of Brexit is to farmers. There has been a lot of uncertainty in the last few years, with low prices, the poorly administered basic payment scheme and the prospect of a significant change to the agricultural subsidy regime once we have left the EU and therefore the common agricultural policy. I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement that the current agricultural funding under pillar one of the CAP will be maintained until 2020, but despite that commitment the UK Government will spend less on agricultural subsidy because we currently get such a bad deal from the CAP. That must be music to the Treasury’s ears. The end of the decade is not that far away, so the Government need to start articulating the long-term vision for farming in the UK now.
We have heard many voices from the south-west but none yet from Dorset. Although Dorset is the smallest county in the south-west, it represents nearly 10% of the agricultural workforce. Does my hon. Friend recognise that there are opportunities for the CAP system to be reformed, which farmers have been calling for, specifically in relation to the timing of payments, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) mentioned?
I agree very much. I will come back to the importance of getting the voices of individual farmers heard. This is a question not just of subsidy—although that is clearly what most farmers will be listening for most keenly—but of access to seasonal manpower and markets, and the regulations that will be in place to facilitate that access. I therefore welcome the initial announcement that all existing EU legislation will be brought forward as UK law and thereafter amended and improved in the UK’s interest. That at least gives farmers the reassurance that the standards and regulations under which they operate will not change in a blink.
As for access to the single market, I detect a little inconsistency among the farmers in my constituency. Many in my patch have called for greater protection of the UK market to reduce imports of cheaper, and frankly less tasty, produce from elsewhere. I am not sure that we should go down the route of protecting the market, because many an agricultural sector is exporting enthusiastically and we would like to see more do so. Instead, our challenge is to promote UK produce in the UK and abroad. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall that a first step in addressing that challenge should be to ensure that British-produced food and drink is prioritised in procurement for public services.
I also agree with my hon. Friend about the availability of migrant labour. As was said during the debate last week about the tourism industry, there is high demand for seasonal migrant labour to be able to come through. The points system that the Government moved away from—thank heavens—would not have achieved what our farmers and holiday parks need. We do not just want rocket scientists to be given permits to come and work in the UK; we want agricultural workers to come in on seasonal work permits too. That will clearly require a dynamic system for ensuring that we award the right number of seasonal agricultural work permits to meet the demands of the agriculture industry at any one time.
However people voted back in June, the CAP was bloated and broken. We now have a real opportunity to set up a system of our own that subsidises where necessary to ensure food security and make our agriculture industry more resilient, with more exporters and more profit. But a word of caution: there is a real danger that in the post-Brexit policy bun fight, the large, well-funded lobbying companies will have the loudest voice. We need to make absolutely sure that farmers, who are notorious for suffering in silence in the solitude of their tractors, get a seat at the table to come forward with their ideas about what the market needs to look like post- Brexit. Farmers have incredible expertise, and it would be far better to hear them contributing to this debate than the well-funded lobbyists up in London.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this debate. Like him, I see Brexit as a great bonus for farming and fishing in the south-west. It is a win-win—but so it should be, because we have significant investment in agriculture and fishing in the south-west. Some 72% of Devon’s land is farmed, and £2.7 billion of turnover in the south-west is due to agriculture. A third of all dairy and beef, and a fifth of all sheep and lambs are also from the south-west. Whatever happens post-Brexit will make a big difference for us in the south-west.
I entirely endorse the comments made about the CAP by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey). It simply did not work, and it rewarded people in the wrong way. I am not suggesting that we should in any way remove its environmental role. We should continue that, but we should make it relevant and appropriate while ensuring that we encourage production. Many farmers I speak to say that there is absolutely no incentive to produce more. That cannot be right. We also have to get the balance right between the large landowner and the farmer with a small landmass to farm who has been short-changed against the big landowners in all sorts of different ways, in part because across Europe the farmers tend to farm across much larger tracts of land, and what works for them does not necessarily work for us.
Going forward, we certainly need to see better, targeted support that is more appropriate to the nature of our agricultural community, which is not the same as that of France and Germany. We also need to ensure that the regulations are properly scrutinised, because at the moment we have rules about the size of gates, the height of hedges and how much space is left between the hedge and crop, and much of that we do not need. There are similar issues. While we clearly want to ensure that animal welfare standards are at their highest, my farmers tell me that much of the red tape around what we need to do are unnecessary and so easy to get around that, frankly, they are rather pointless.
I totally agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) about marketing and labelling, because I think very few people really understand what that tractor means. We could get a proper scheme going, with proper support to encourage supermarkets and others to really promote British, and we could have legislation that made it clear where the word “British” or “produced” can and cannot be used, because it is unclear and the European rules are different from those we have here.
Does my hon. Friend agree that leaving the EU provides an opportunity for the UK to be more self-sufficient in food? Currently we are at just over 60%. We have a great opportunity for UK farmers to sell more of their products in the UK and for us to be less reliant on imports.
I totally agree. There is a huge appetite to buy local; it is just that people do not know how to do that. Those of us who live in rural communities are privileged in a way, because we have all sorts of farm shops and we all know about them, but those who live in the cities do not get the same opportunity, other than when there is a local market or whatever. There is certainly an issue in trying to bring the best of rural England to the cities and other parts of the country so that they can understand and see the benefits—certainly in taste—that we can bring them.
There are other things we could do, such as introducing a crop insurance scheme that looks at the challenges farmers face when over a year we have bad weather and a crop fails. If we did that, we could have checks and balances to help our farmers. However, we need something that really works and not something that creates a milk mountain—that would be the wrong way forward. Of course, we need to invest in science, because if we are to move forward and increase our market share and footprint, we need investment in research to go ahead.
With regard to the fishermen, I entirely support all that my Cornish colleagues have said. The quota system does not work. I am not suggesting that we should cut off anyone from fishing in our waters, but it needs to be fairer, because at the moment the French quota for plaice is twice as big as ours, for Dover sole it is two thirds more and for cod it is five sixths more than ours. That really is not acceptable.
We need a fair quota system. We need also sustainable fishing—at the moment that is largely ignored in large parts of Europe—and to deal once and for all with the discard problem, because although the EU has talked about that for many years, we still have not resolved it. There is much to do, and I am absolutely sure that the British Government can put agriculture and fishing first.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for securing the debate, which is particularly timely for me because I have my catch-up with the National Farmers Union at Crealy park in East Devon on Friday. We will hear a lot over the coming months and years about the threats and opportunities of Brexiting and it is up to us as parliamentarians to ensure that the opportunities trump the threats.
The threats are pretty obvious to the farming and fishing sectors. There are threats of access to markets—we do not know what shape they will take—and we have heard about freedom of movement issues, and of labour in particular, in the south-west, be that for people working in the poultry business or picking vegetables or daffodils further west. However, it seems to me that none of us will lament the passing of the common agricultural policy or the EU common fisheries policy.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to answer the question: does farming have a future? That is a question that, if we get it right, we will no longer have to ask ourselves. This is a time to shape our farming, shape our fishing and shape our countryside, to show people that there is indeed a future. It is self-evident, of course, that we continue with arrangements as they are for now. It does need the Secretary of State to confirm this; we can continue with the status quo until we sign the decree absolute in the divorce from the EU. It is what happens after that is important, as we change the existing legislation to reflect what we want for UK policy.
I think this is genuinely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our farming industries and I very much hope that Ministers in the Department will not spend the next few months or years talking to lobbyists or large organisations, but talking to the practitioners on the ground. I hope they will talk to the supermarkets and finally get some sense out of them in promoting British products at fair prices. I hope they will talk to the Environment Agency and Natural England and other organisations to ensure they are refocused to support a farmed countryside, not the sanitised version of the countryside as evidenced weekly by programmes that the BBC so loves, such as “Countryfile”—or, even worse, by the absurd Chris Packham.
My right hon. Friend is making a strong case. On that note, does he agree it is important that policies are developed that allow agriculture and the good industry to grow and, as he says, create a healthy, sustainable environment with the soil, air and water, ticking all those boxes at once? As he says, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Yes, and not all from the EU has been bad—that is the point. When we come to examine some of the legislation, and particularly some of the wildlife and environmental legislation, I strongly suspect that we will want to adopt quite a lot of it for ourselves. I very much hope Ministers will come to my constituency and speak to the principal and staff at one of the finest land-based colleges left in the country, Bicton. It should not be one of the few land-based colleges left in the country; we should have them all over the countryside. I hope the Minister or her colleagues will come and speak to them.
I hope Ministers will come and talk to dairy farmers such as Peter and Di Wastenage—who were farmers of the year in the Farmers Weekly awards in 2015 and who run a magnificent dairy herd—and address the issue of how we tackle the scourge of bovine TB and finally eradicate it, particularly in the south-west. I hope they will also discuss how we can deal with flood prevention and balance that against the needs of farmers.
I hope, finally, that we will discuss issues that are important in tourism but equally important to running farming businesses: rurality, services and broadband. Farmers need broadband. They are not only isolated in their tractor cabs, non-complaining. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (James Heappey) has found so many non-complaining farmers—I would like to find out where they are, so perhaps he could tell me. Of course, farmers do get on with the job, but when they come home to fill in those myriad files—many of which I hope a new British farming policy will render redundant—they do need modern communications.
I think 75% of the countryside is already farmed. Let us make sure it is farmed properly and let us make sure it is farmed in the interests of the agricultural community. Let us make sure we have sustainability balanced with environmental requirements and deal, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) said, with the issue of food security. On balance, yes, there are threats, but the opportunities more than outweigh the threats. We should be talking up British farming and British fishing because in the south-west it is our lifeblood.
Time is short, so I will congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on bringing forward this debate, and endorse the many comments he and others have made about the importance of our farming industry. I would like to touch on: issues for our fishing industry, particularly fairness, markets, support and sustainability; our coastal communities—the Minister, whom I welcome to her post, will understand that, as she represents a coastal community—marine science; and the importance of talking to fishermen and farmers as policies go forward.
First is the issue of fairness—that is what fishermen are looking for. When 73 million of the channel fishing quota goes to British fishermen and 211 million goes to French fishermen, clearly that is out of balance. Fishermen tell me that they are unable to access waters within France’s 12-mile limit, but others are able to access waters within our 12-mile limit, so that again is an area in which we have an opportunity to make significant changes. Also, will the Minister comment on the issue of quota hopping? That has long been a source of concern to our fishermen.
This is not just about our fishing communities and fishermen; it is about the onshore sector, markets and access to those markets. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Brixham market and Brixham Trawler Agents? Last week, Mike Shaw and his team topped the £1 million mark for the value of the catch landed through Brixham market. That market was worth more than £23 million to our local economy in the past year. However, the majority of the produce that goes through that market is for export, principally to the European Union. Clearly, it is absolutely vital that we protect those markets, and that we do not drive the producer sector away from Brixham and other areas in the south-west to the European Union. I hope that the Minister will focus on that, as well as access for the important workers in that industry.
Many hon. Members have touched on support for our coastal communities, our fishermen and, indeed, for Brixham market and others. Although many grants have come from the European Union, we all accept that the money is recycled from our own resources. It will be terrific if we have more flexibility to use that money in a way that is right for our businesses and communities. Will the Minister comment on whether those processes will speed up, and become more transparent and less bureaucratic? We have a huge opportunity to do that.
There is also the important issue of sustainability. We will exit the common fisheries policy at a time when it finally seems to be getting its act together; the 2014 reforms have really started to make a difference. Continuing to look at this by sea basin area will be important. Clearly, under the United Nations arrangements, we will still rightly be bound to liaise with our neighbours when coming to these agreements; we cannot just unilaterally make changes. It is important that the Minister acknowledges the importance of having a commitment to a maximum sustainable yield and to protecting our marine environment.
We must also look at pollution controls and safety at sea. Those who put their lives on the line for us to put fish on our plate deserve an absolute assurance that safety will be foremost in the Government’s mind going forward.
I congratulate the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing the debate. While speaking within the terms of reference of the debate, I will also make some comments on Europe. In 2015, the UK’s deficit in trading goods and services with the EU was £69 billion, while the surplus with non-EU countries was £30 billion. The figures are clear. What is not clear are the steps that must now be taken to secure trade deals for companies.
We must remember that when article 50 is invoked and we leave Europe, the seas around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be open to all those who fly the British flag—to us in Portavogie, in my constituency of Strangford, as well as those in Brixham and in Looe; we look forward to working with our fishing comrades in the south-west. We must also remember that companies such as Rich Sauces service places as far away as America, while Pritchitts and Lakeview dairies are looking to markets in the far east. Those are farm products that are farmed and produced at home. We look forward to those opportunities, as do those in the south-west of England.
For years, red tape has bound farmers. Common-sense farming was no longer allowed, and farming became a pen pusher’s dream and a worker’s nightmare. I commend the Government, and the Minister in particular, for guaranteeing current EU farm subsidies, which make up some 50% to 60% of UK farm income, until 2020. The fishing industry has been slowly choked to death over the years. Our fishing boats have been forced to stay at home with no compensation while every other Tom, Dick and Harry fishes our seas. Our sea is heaving with fish—that is clear for all but the scientists to see— while our boat equipment is not suitable for fishing the seas that our fishermen need to fish, because the EU says so.
I will focus on where we go from here. For our fishermen, the answer is: we go back to work. We go back to fishing our seas sensibly, ensuring that we do not overfish them, that we do our part for marine conservation, that vessels have high safety standards, and that the fishing industry has the ability to thrive once again. We must also ensure that our fleets have the ability to access international waters, and that there is freedom, within whatever policy is put in place, to let fishermen do their job.
The Government, led by the Prime Minister, have a lot to do, and we encourage the negotiation team. The UK as a whole has a lot more to do to ensure that we ignore the uncertainty and make the most of this opportunity. We must feed into this process positively to ensure that our fishermen, our farmers and our expert food industry are able to grow from the decision to leave Europe, which I fully support and which they support as well. We can again stand on our own two feet, and we will do so knowing that we are striving at all levels, regardless of personal opinions, to deliver for all in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I thank the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) for securing this important debate. He talked about why farmers are at the beating heart of our community and of the huge contribution that they make to the British economy. I know that is very important; I have a lot of farmers in my constituency. He also touched on the difficulties farmers have recently faced with Rural Payments Agency payments, and said that they really need Government support as we move forward towards Brexit. He also stressed the importance of maintaining good relationships with our friends in the European Union; we need to do that to secure the future of our farming and fishing industries.
The importance of this debate is shown by the number of contributions from hon. and right hon. Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) talked about the importance of free trade with the European Union. The hon. and learned Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) discussed the need for food security—a point that came out strongly in the debate; it was picked up by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who also expressed concerns about what will happen to the seasonal workforce.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) talked about the importance of the fishing industry in Northern Ireland. He followed the hon. Members for St Ives (Derek Thomas), and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who talked about the particular challenges faced by the fishing industry in the south-west. The hon. Member for Wells (James Heappey) asked a pertinent question: what is the long-term future of our farming industry? The hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) asked for better-targeted support, which we will of course need.
I regularly meet farmers from across my constituency. They are concerned about their livelihoods and how much support they will receive in the future. There may well be new opportunities, as has been mentioned, but it is also clear that there are substantial challenges ahead. As we know, many rural and coastal communities have benefited from EU funding through the common agricultural policy payments, no matter how much that agreement is disliked, and also from funding for regeneration in our coastal communities and town centres.
The implications of Brexit for our fishing industry are highly uncertain. Figures from the House of Commons Library show that the UK was allocated more than €240 million in funding between 2014 and 2020, which was matched by the Government. I ask the Minister if that level of funding will continue following Brexit. It was said during the referendum campaign that regaining control of territorial waters would allow Britain’s fishing industry to thrive, and that leaving the EU would mean cutting red tape for farmers. Will the Minister give us a progress report on how she is getting on with that?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter also mentioned the collapse of the pound, and we know that inflation has risen sharply. That will have an impact on producers through, for example, fuel bills, and also on consumers, through the price that they pay for food. We still do not know what rural Britain will look like post-Brexit. We hope that it will not get worse, but it may by 2019. The media in the south-west are reporting that farmers and fishermen ae already concerned about the Government’s stance and about how the Government will defend their interests. What will the Minister say to reassure farmers and fishermen, not just in the south-west but across the country?
This country has benefited from billions of pounds of investment from the EU structural funds. Will the Government pick up that slack? Experts have forecast that Cornwall could, between now and 2027, need £1.1 billion of funding to match the EU structural funds payments. Will the Minister tell us if the Government will match that expected funding? Will they match the funding expected between now and 2017, which is the next tranche? I understand that civil servants are already becoming cautious about signing off projects that may not be completed before 2019. Will the money promised be ring-fenced and locally delivered? Rural and coastal communities have already been badly hit as a result of Government funding cuts.
We see significant uncertainty at a time when fishermen and farmers really need the reassurance of continued vital investment in the rural communities of which they are such an important part. We also need infrastructure investment for better transport, better phone signals and, as the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) mentioned, better broadband.
How do the Government propose to replace and reform the current system of direct payments through the common agricultural policy? How do they propose to replace the funding provided through the EU’s rural development programmes? How do they propose to replace the EU funding for agricultural research programmes? Will they guarantee that the common fisheries policy regulations will not just be enshrined in UK law through the great repeal Bill, but will be retained, to give certainty to the fishing sector over future policy? Finally, how do the Government intend to make up for funding for the fishing sector derived from the European and maritime fisheries fund, once the UK has left the EU?
I know that there are a lot of questions for the Minister. I hope that she can give me answers today, but if not, I would greatly appreciate written answers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Moon. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North Cornwall (Scott Mann) on securing this timely debate. My hon. Friend the Minister of State had intended to cover this debate but regrettably is unable to be here today. The subject would be especially apt for him, as he represents a constituency in the south-west—a constituency of which he is very proud—where these issues are highly relevant.
I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) is here supporting me. She is a great asset to our Department with her insight into this topic and especially the fishing industry. No debate in Westminster Hall would be complete without a comprehensive contribution from the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who yet again showed an ingenious way of linking his issues to those of hon. Members in the south-west. It is also a pleasure to welcome the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman). I believe this is her first Westminster Hall debate in her role as shadow Minister, and she made a very good job of it—well done to her.
Our priority is to ensure that we leave the European Union in the best way for the United Kingdom. That includes ensuring that our farming and fisheries sectors have a vibrant future, while recognising that the great repeal Bill offers, in the short term, the stability that the industry needs, which the hon. Member for Workington asked about. I assure Members that DEFRA will play a lead role in discussions and decisions on leaving the European Union. The right hon. Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) brought up several issues about markets and article 50. He will be aware that the Government have not yet made any decisions on those matters, although we are clear that we believe we can trigger article 50. He will also know that there is an ongoing legal case at the moment, where the Attorney General is representing us.
We now have an unprecedented opportunity to redesign our policies, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir Hugo Swire) said, to ensure that our agricultural and fisheries industries are competitive, productive and profitable, and that our environment is improved for future generations. Representing a rural constituency, I know that these are really good opportunities for us, particularly in the south-west, which has a long and proud farming and fishing history. Agriculture is vital across our country. Our farmers produce high-quality food to world-leading standards. Our farming heritage has shaped our landscape, defining us as a country, and contributes to a food chain worth £108 billion. It is all the more important for the south-west, with farming contributing even more to the south-west economy than the national average.
The Government have already recognised the importance of providing certainty to the agricultural and fisheries industries. In the summer, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the agricultural sector will receive the same level of funding that it would have received under pillar 1 of the CAP until the end of the multi-annual financial framework in 2020. He later announced that all structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and the European maritime and fisheries fund—known as the EMFF—signed before the autumn statement will be fully funded, even when those projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.
We have also confirmed that the Government will guarantee EU funding for structural and investment fund projects, including agri-environment schemes and the EMFF. Projects signed after the autumn statement that will continue after we leave the EU can continue if they provide good value for money and are in line with domestic strategic priorities. The hon. Member for Workington should therefore be assured. That provides the necessary certainty and continuity to our rural communities while we develop a new approach to supporting agriculture and fisheries and protecting our precious countryside and seas, which I hope gives some assurance to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston).
As Members have set out, there are a number of similar issues and opportunities affecting agriculture and fisheries, but I will address each separately to give both their deserved airing. We recognise the need for early certainty for the agricultural industry, which is why the Government were clear on the commitment on pillar 1 to 2020 and have offered further guarantees under pillar 2. There are clear opportunities to support our farming sector to become more productive and more resilient to risks specific to the industry.
Operating outside the EU framework means we also have the opportunity to better realise some of the connections between agriculture and the environment. As Minister for the environment, I know some of these issues rather well, and I am looking forward to realising some of the great opportunities. More than 70% of our land is agricultural. There are substantial opportunities to deliver for the environment and tackle some of the totemic issues we face—air quality, water quality and biodiversity, to name just a few. We will want to embed key principles, building on strong foundations, to take a modern, open approach, using data and innovation to drive productivity, maximise new opportunities and ensure we minimise bureaucracy and red tape.
I must reiterate that although some EU rules can be burdensome, while we remain in the EU they still need to be met for farmers to receive their basic payment scheme payment. I am led to believe that 99.5% of BPS payments have been made. If there are any outstanding issues, hon. Members can contact my hon. Friend the Minister and bring them to his attention.
We are committed to developing two 25-year plans for the environment and for food and farming, as set out in the Conservative manifesto. I assure hon. Members that we will be working closely with the industry and the public on what is needed to drive agricultural and environment policies forward. There has been a wide range of contributions and thoughts on a future agricultural support system.
I am not concluding.
I assure hon. Members that there will be opportunities to contribute to shaping such a system in due course, but I know that my hon. Friend the Minister is already working hard on it.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Torridge and West Devon (Mr Cox) referred to food security. I assure him that the UK has a high degree of food security, as shown by the 2010 UK food security assessment, which analysed the different global factors impacting UK food supply. One reason for our high food security is the size and competitiveness of the industry and diversity of supply. In terms of marketing, my hon. and learned Friend will be aware of the Great British Food Unit, which was launched earlier this year to promote exports, support inward investment and champion the excellence of British food and drink at home and abroad. It will be helping more and more companies to send their food and drink around the globe—including, I am sure, the 13 protected food names with south-west heritage, such as Dorset blue, Gloucestershire cider, Fal oysters and west country beef and lamb. Just yesterday my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State launched an ambitious plan to boost our exports up to 2020 while she was at a Paris food fair. She assures me that some of what she tasted was absolutely delicious and she did not need any dinner.
With regard to fisheries, the Government are committed to supporting the fishing industry so that it becomes more economically and environmentally sustainable. I recognise the important role the fishing fleet plays in the south-west, which is home to the largest number of fishing vessels in England. In particular, I am aware of Newlyn, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Derek Thomas). The south-west has a diverse fleet, catching a wide range of quota and non-quota species, and it is an important contributor to the wider food chain. With more than £100 million of fish landed by the south-west fleet in 2015, it plays a vital role in the local economy and provides much needed support to coastal communities, including Brixham harbour, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes referred and where last summer I enjoyed a pleasant beer watching the fish being brought in, while avoiding the seagulls.
Exit from the EU presents us with an opportunity to improve the way waters around the whole of the UK are managed, although it is important to note that even after we leave the EU, we will remain members of the UN and of other conventions. The UN convention on the law of the sea has quite clear provisions on the exclusive economic zone but also clear commitments to co-operate with other countries where there are shared fisheries. Operating outside the common fisheries policy will give us the opportunity to establish a new fisheries regime that better meets the UK’s needs, including, I hope, those of the south-west.
As with agriculture, we want to set some common principles for our fisheries policy. The UK has had some success in reforming the common fisheries policy to make it more sustainable with an agreement to fish to maximum sustainable yield and to end the wasteful discarding of unwanted fish. Ensuring that we continue to fish our waters sustainably will remain a priority, but there are of course areas where we might consider doing things differently—for example, making changes to technical regulations to better suit the specific conditions found in UK waters.
I want to address the labour issue. I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman, but I am happy to speak to him afterwards.
I assure hon. Members that I have heard their concerns today on labour as we leave the EU. DEFRA is aware that migrant workers from other EU countries will be one of the issues that will have to be resolved as part of our exit negotiations and future relationship with the EU. Our Ministers are currently working with colleagues across Government to understand all the issues and explore options.
On recruiting people into the industry, I remind hon. Members of our intention to develop thousands more food and farming apprenticeships. I am aware that Seafish, which has a national remit, has made progress on increasing the number of apprenticeships offered in the industry. My hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall referred to five fishermen who did a fishing course in Looe in August. All five have jobs to go to, which is great news.
I assure hon. Members that DEFRA officials are working with the Department for Exiting the European Union. We will continue to listen and I look forward to future debates.
Motion lapsed, and sitting adjourned without Question put (Standing Order No. 10(14)).