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Written Statements

Volume 675: debated on Tuesday 21 April 2020

Written Statements

Tuesday 21 April 2020

Education

Schools: Capital Funding

Today, I am confirming £2.2 billion of capital funding to maintain and improve the condition of the school estate and to create new school places. Funding allocations were published on 15 April 2020. This investment will support the Government’s priority to ensure that every child has the opportunity of a place at a good school, whatever their background.

As part of our investment of £23 billion in the school estate by 2021, we have now announced over £1.4 billion of condition funding for the financial year 2020-21. This package includes:

£800 million for local authorities, large multi-academy trusts and academy sponsors, and dioceses, and other large voluntary aided school groups, to invest in maintaining and improving the condition of their schools.

Over £400 million available through the condition improvement fund for essential maintenance projects at small and stand-alone academy trusts, voluntary aided schools and sixth-form colleges.

Over £200 million of devolved formula capital allocated directly for schools to spend on capital projects to meet their own priorities.

In addition, we have announced nearly £750 million of new funding to create new school places needed for September 2022. This funding, which is over and above our commitment to invest £23 billion in the school estate by 2021, will allow local authorities to plan ahead with confidence, and to invest strategically to ensure they deliver good school places for every child who needs one.

This funding was announced on 15 April 2020. Full details have been published on the Department for Education section on the gov.uk website.

[HCWS191]

Support for Education Settings and Providers

I am writing to inform the House of further steps this Government are taking to support the education system and children and young people manage the consequences of covid-19.

Attendance in schools

Schools have been closed to all but the children of critical workers and vulnerable children since Monday 23 March. They will remain closed until further notice, except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children, who are encouraged to attend where it is appropriate for them to do so.

Today we have published the numbers of children of critical workers and vulnerable children in attendance at schools since 23 March and up to 17 April. The figures are available on gov.uk. Attendance statistics will now be published on a weekly basis, looking back at the previous school week. Further data will be available next Tuesday, covering the period up to 24 April.

Key findings are as follows –

Figures show the attendance rate amongst pupils in educational establishments was 0.9% during the week commencing 6 April, which would have been the first week of the Easter holidays, having originally been above 3% in the first week of schools being closed except for children of critical workers and vulnerable children.

24,000 of the children in attendance on Friday 17 April were classed as vulnerable; 62,000 of the children in attendance on Friday 17 April were children of critical workers.

Statistics also show that the number of teachers attending school has been falling, which suggests that schools are adapting to lower numbers of pupils and the latest advice on social distancing.

These figures illustrate the incredible effort families all over the country are making as we fight the coronavirus, with well over 90% of children staying home.

Supporting attendance of vulnerable children and young people

Our first priority has always been protecting the wellbeing of children and young people, but particularly those vulnerable young people with special educational needs or a social worker.

Schools remain open for them, as they also do for children of critical workers, and we encourage vulnerable children and young people to attend educational settings unless they have underlying health conditions that put them at severe risk.

We have refreshed our guidance in relation to this group to set out our expectations of how educational settings and local authorities should encourage and support vulnerable children and young people at this time and how non-attendance should be followed up. This can be found on gov.uk.

Free school meals

We thank schools for continuing to support those children that are eligible for free school meals, including during the Easter break. We know that support is being provided through their existing schools food suppliers or through the national voucher scheme Government have put in place. Today I can confirm that Aldi will be added to the list of supermarkets where vouchers will be redeemable. That is in addition to Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, Waitrose, M&S, Asda and Morrison’s.

New support for remote education and access to social services

Most children are not attending schools, and we are extremely grateful for how schools and colleges have adapted so rapidly to new ways of working by moving resources online, working remotely and changing the way they support their students and each other.

We have already published an initial list of high quality online educational resources including how to support physical and mental wellbeing and materials for teaching children with special educational needs and disabilities. Many commercial providers have also offered high quality educational resources at discounts or for free.

In addition, to support the hard work of schools in delivering remote education, the Oak National Academy was launched on Monday 20 April. This brand-new enterprise has been created by 40 teachers from some of the leading schools across England, backed by Government grant funding. It will provide 180 video lessons each week, across a broad range of subjects from maths to art to languages, for every year group from reception through to year 10.

The BBC has also launched its own education package across TV and online, featuring celebrities and some of the best teachers—helping to keep children learning and supporting parents.

This is alongside new guidance we published on 19 April for parents on how best to support their child’s education and development at home. This can be found on gov.uk.

To ensure that as many children as possible can access online learning, we have ordered laptops to help disadvantaged young people who would otherwise not have access and are preparing for exams (in year 10).

We will also provide laptops or tablets for care leavers and children with social workers (including families with pre-school age children) to help them stay in touch with the services they need, keeping them safe as well as supporting home learning.

And if disadvantaged children in year 10, care leavers and children with a social worker at secondary school cannot access the internet, we will provide free 4G routers to get them connected while schools are closed. We are also working with some of the major telecommunications providers to exempt certain educational resource sites from data charges.

For 16 to 19-year-olds, colleges, schools or other providers can support those without access to devices or connections through their flexible bursary funding. Where additional funding is needed to provide this support, providers can apply to have their bursary funds topped up to ensure those who need it have access.

NSPCC helpline

To further protect children from harm, we are continuing to support NSPCC’s Childline and are working with them to expand the adult helpline by providing them with £1.6 million. This means children have someone to call, and more adults will be able to raise concerns and seek advice about the safety and wellbeing of any child they are worried about.

Care leavers

We recognise that young people who have left care or are just about to, whether that is from a foster family or residential care, are especially vulnerable right now.

I am asking local authorities to ensure no one has to leave care during this period, by looking very carefully at whether it is safe for those young people who would have been due to move out of their care to do so and to give care leavers extra support.

The £1.6 billion of additional funding announced by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government on Saturday will help local authorities give care leavers, and other vulnerable groups, the support that they need at this difficult time.

Flexibility to use early years entitlement funding to secure childcare for critical workers and vulnerable children

It is vital that we secure sufficient childcare for critical workers and vulnerable children through the covid-19 pandemic, and ensure the sector is able to function and allow parents to return to work afterwards. I want to thank the local authorities, childminders, nurseries and schools that are working together to ensure sufficient childcare in their areas. To help them do this, we are providing a range of financial support.

As most early years providers have mixed private and public incomes, we have published guidance setting out how providers can access the coronavirus job retention scheme (CJRS) while still receiving early entitlement funding. This confirmed that providers can access the CJRS to cover up to the proportion of its pay bill which could be considered to have been paid for from that provider’s private income.

We will also be publishing guidance to support local authorities to use their free entitlement funding differently, redistributing it—in exceptional cases and in a clearly focused and targeted way—in order to secure childcare for the children of critical workers and for vulnerable children, where their usual arrangements are no longer possible.

This ability to redistribute will enable local authorities to ensure that critical workers, including NHS staff, are able to access childcare where they need it. Any setting which sees their early entitlement funding reduced in order to fund childcare places elsewhere will be able to increase the proportion of their salary bill eligible for the coronavirus job retention scheme in line with the department’s guidance on access to the scheme.

This statement has also been made in the House of Lords.

[HCWS193]

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Delivery of Critical Services: Government Action

Coronavirus presents unprecedented challenges to the businesses we rely on to provide essential services which keep people safe—including food supply, water and waste.

Many businesses in these sectors have benefited from Government schemes to support all businesses, including the coronavirus job retention scheme, coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, and the small business grant scheme and support for the self-employed.

Beyond this, the Government have taken specific action to support the food, farming, water and waste sectors in the delivery of critical services.

Fisheries

The fishing sector has seen considerable impacts because of the closure of restaurants both here and in Europe and severe market disruption. Last week we announced a new £10 million support scheme to help the catching and aquaculture sector in England and boost local supply chains. Vessel owners and aquaculture businesses will receive payments to help cover their fixed costs. On Monday we began to contact eligible vessel owners. The MMO has published the details of the scheme on gov.uk.

Dairy

In particular, the dairy sector has felt a significant impact as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Between 5% and 10% of total milk production goes to the food service trade and there is therefore a small proportion of milk production that currently has no home. The vast majority of Britain's 10,000 dairy farmers continue to supply their contracts at the usual price and larger processors have been largely unaffected by the market disruption because of their scale and diversified nature. In order to support the affected farmers, on Friday we announced that we will set aside some elements of competition law to make it easier for processors to come together and voluntarily work out how to ease production down in order to create the space in the market for that milk that currently has no home and to support a recovery in the spot price. We have asked the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which supports the interests of dairy farmers and the wider farming industry, and Dairy UK, which represents the processors, to co-ordinate a proposal and discussions are already under way.

Livestock

There has been a drop in demand in various cuts, for example steaks, leading to carcass balance problems in the beef, poultry meat and pig meat sectors. We have encouraged supermarkets to put steaks on promotion and, while the price of beef cattle has reduced in recent weeks, retailers are also reporting an increase in meat sales. Although the price of beef cattle, poultry and pigs has dropped, it still remains higher than in previous years. Quite a lot of beef, poultry meat and pig meat has gone into storage so we continue to monitor this market closely.

Waste

The waste sector has been impacted by social distancing, staff shortages and an increase in waste produced by households compared to a decrease in demand for commercial collections. DEFRA has published guidance to local authorities to help them prioritise their waste streams to keep important services like black bin bag collections moving, and worked with the waste sector to develop an online platform called WasteSupport which facilitates the sharing of resources between local authorities and commercial operators. This was launched by the sector at the end of last week. We are looking at how we can keep other services operating such as household waste recycling centres, and are aware of reports of increases in fly-tipping.

Supermarkets

Following a significant spike in consumer demand, we have now seen stock levels in supermarkets improve and panic buying has stopped. To support the food sector, the Government temporarily relaxed competition law and regulations relating to driver hours and delivery times so that the sector could work together to keep putting food on the shelves.

Ornamental horticulture

The closure of garden centres has had an impact on some specialist plant producers in the ornamental horticultural sector. Online sales have been able to continue and the Government are keeping the situation under review but concluded last week that it was too early to ease any restrictions on such retail environments. The First Secretary set out the five tests on which the Government would base any assessment of easing the current measure. We must all continue to stay at home, in order to protect the NHS and save lives.

The Government will continue to support these essential services; I want to thank all those who have rallied in an extraordinary way to respond to this unprecedented challenge.

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Justice

Whiplash Reform Programme: Implementation

I would like to provide an update on next steps for the whiplash reform programme.

The Government remain firmly committed to implementing these measures which are intended to control the number and cost of whiplash claims. Under the programme, we will increase the small claims track limit for road traffic accident related personal injury claims to £5,000; as well as introduce a fixed tariff of damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity for whiplash injuries, and a ban on the making or accepting of offers to settle a whiplash claim without a medical report.

The Government indicated on 27 February 2020 that after careful consideration they had decided to implement the whiplash reforms in August 2020. However, it is apparent that the current covid-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on the medical, legal and insurance sectors. While the whiplash reform measures remain important, the Government are committed to acting to ease the disruption and pressures caused by the covid-19 outbreak where it can.

As a result, the Government have considered representations from key stakeholder groups and agrees that now is not the time to press ahead with significant transformational change to the personal injury sector.

We have therefore decided to delay the implementation of the whiplash reform programme to April 2021. This will enable key sectors of this country’s business to focus their energies on delivering their response to covid-19, and will allow the Government to focus on delivering key services in the justice area during this difficult time.

The Government will continue to monitor developments in relation to the current pandemic and will, if necessary, make further announcements in regard to the implementation of these important reforms.

[HCWS194]