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House of Commons Hansard
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Petitions
27 June 2016
Volume 612

Petitions

Monday 27 June 2016

OBSERVATIONS

Education

Children’s Centre services in Corby

The petition of residents of Corby and the surrounding areas,

Declares that children in Corby statistically fair worse in education, income levels, life expectancy and health than children in many other parts of the UK; further that Children’s Centres mitigate these challenges; further that many families in Corby depend upon the services provided by their local Children’s Centre; further that Northamptonshire County Council is proposing to cut the budget of Corby’s Children’s Centre services by 25%; further that these additional funding cuts are unfair and indefensible; and further that an online petition on this matter has been signed by over 1,700 individuals.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to encourage Northamptonshire County Council to stop their proposed funding cuts of 25% to the budget of Corby’s Children’s Centre services.

And the petitioners remain, etc. —[Presented by Tom Pursglove, Official Report, 04 May 2016; Vol. 609, c. 279.]

[P001689]

Observations from The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah):

We have had to make difficult decisions since 2010, and all areas of Government-both central and local—have been asked to make efficiencies. What is important is that services are improving outcomes for the families that need help. 4Children’s survey of children’s centres suggests that over 1 million families are frequently accessing children’s centres in 2015 and this estimate is unchanged since first published in 2013.

Councils have a duty to ensure there are sufficient centres to meet local need, and are best placed to decide on provision in their communities. Local authorities have a duty to consult where changes are planned to local children’s centre provision. Any local authority that closes down a children’s centre must demonstrate that they have devised ways to ensure that services continue—if not the buildings.

The Government’s role is to set a clear framework, which they have done. Funding for children’s services (including children’s centres) gives local authorities the flexibility to focus on locally determined priorities, and local authorities are making complex choices about how to target resources most effectively. It is right, and expected, therefore, that local authorities spend varying amounts on children’s services.

Ultimately, it is up the democratically elected local councils how they are making sure they provide necessary children’s services. The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced as part of the spending review that by the end of this Parliament, the local government sector will be able to retain 100% of local taxes to spend on local government services. This will put local government in control of their finances, allowing them to respond more efficiently to local need.

However, it is vital that every child, regardless of their background, is given the opportunity to realise their potential. Therefore, total Government spend on early years and childcare will increase from £5 billion in 2015-16 to over £6 billion by 2019-20. This includes funding for early years free entitlements, Tax- Free Childcare, Childcare Vouchers, Universal Credit and tax credits.

We want to see strong children’s centres services across the country, offering families access to a wide range of local, flexible services, tackling disadvantage. That is why we are considering our future policy on children’s centres as part of our life chances strategy due to be published in the summer 2016.

Development on the former Two Trees High School site, Denton

The petition of residents of Haughton Green and Denton,

Declares that the fields of the former Two Trees High School in Denton should be protected from unwanted development; and further that the site should be preserved for the benefit of the environment and future generations.

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretaries of State for Education and Communities and Local Government to protect Haughton Green and Denton’s open spaces, and prohibit unwanted development on the former site of Two Trees High School.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Andrew Gwynne , Official Report, 25 May 2016; Vol. 611, c. 649.]

[P001697]

Observations from The Minister for Schools (Mr Nick Gibb):

The development of any site would require planning permission. The planning process is largely a local matter and the Secretary of State for Education has no role—statutory or otherwise—in it.

I should also make it clear that planning Ministers would not intervene in, or even comment on, a particular planning situation, because their quasi-judicial role in the planning system imposes a strict duty of impartiality. It is for the local authority, in consultation with the local community, to propose policies for the local plan which it considers are right for the area; and then to decide planning applications in accord with the plan adopted and any other relevant consideration, such as policy in the National Planning Policy Framework.

In addition to the planning process, the Education Act 2011 requires that the Secretary of State must give consent prior to the disposal of land which has been used for any school or academy in the last eight years. A key consideration for the Government is whether the land proposed for disposal could be suitable for use by a new academy or free school.

School playing fields are also protected by Section 77 of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. Schools and local authorities must obtain the Secretary of State’s approval before they can dispose of their land. Applications to dispose of school playing fields are first considered by the school playing fields advisory panel, who make a recommendation to the Secretary of State, before she then makes her final decision.

At this time, we are not aware of an application by Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council to seek approval to dispose of the former Two Trees Sports College, including the playing fields. Should an application be submitted, the Secretary of State takes into account any groups or organisations with permission to use the playing fields and what suitable alternative provision they may have been offered. Local schools, which are deficient in playing field land, should also be offered the opportunity to use the playing field before any application is presented. She will also take into account local school place needs and any academy requirement.