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Surplus Places

9. Jacqui Smith (Redditch): What support he provides for areas undertaking school reorganisation to remove surplus places. [59110]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Charles Clarke): We make capital allocations to support cost-effective projects to remove surplus places. We have allocated £40 million for surplus place removal projects due to begin in the current financial year.

Jacqui Smith: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. He will be aware that Redditch schools are being reviewed with the aim of removing 2,000 surplus places. While I support that aim, it is causing considerable local concern as at least 20 schools will be directly affected and the knock-on effects will cover the whole town. Will he assure me that if the reorganisation plans end up on his desk, he will undertake to get the views of parents, schools and governors throughout the town? Furthermore, as he has recognised the capital implications of such reorganisations, will he assure me that areas such as Redditch will get priority for capital allocation?

Mr. Clarke: I am aware that my hon. Friend's local education authority is still consulting on options for Redditch. That is properly a matter for the authority. If it decides to publish proposals, local people will have an opportunity to object and make their points clear in whatever way they think fit. A decision on any such proposals must be made on the merits of the case, taking account of education, economic factors and the views of

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local people. I will be happy to listen to and consider carefully all representations that my hon. Friend and her constituents make.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant): Will the Minister give a simple pledge that no school will close as a result of any reorganisation that may follow a ballot leading to the abolition of grammar schools?

Mr. Clarke: First, as the hon. Gentleman knows, grammar schools are not being abolished. Secondly, grammar schools have nothing to do with school reorganisation to remove surplus places. Thirdly, I will not give a pledge that no school will close as a result of reorganisation to remove surplus places. As he well knows, that is a matter for local education authorities, which will decide how properly to deal with it. I am confident and pleased that LEAs are dealing with the issue in a responsible and forward-looking way, without making party political points as he takes great pleasure in doing.

New Deal

10. Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): If he will report progress on the new deal initiative. [59111]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): The new deal has taken on board 160,000 young people across the country--50,000 have entered options, 30,000 of whom have entered jobs. In Chipping Barnet, I am glad to say, there have been nearly 2,000 gateway interviews, giving young people hope for the future.

Sir Sydney Chapman: Obviously, I welcome any progress in the reduction of youth unemployment, but is the right hon. Gentleman concerned that the drop-out rate seems to be about 40 to 45 per cent.? Is he inquiring why young people are dropping out and where they are going? Is he in his heart satisfied that this very expensive initiative is the most cost-effective way in which to move people from the dole into gainful employment?

Mr. Blunkett: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman welcomes anything that gets young people off the dole, as the shadow Secretary of State is on record saying that the scheme is a monumental irrelevance. It is certainly not an irrelevance to those 50,000 young people who have found an option. The drop-out rate is not 45 per cent.; cumulatively, it is 19 per cent, which is 6 per cent. lower than for any equivalent programme that was run by the previous Government. If he had been courteous and committed enough to turn up to the meetings in his area to which he was invited, to discuss the new deal and help us to implement it, he might have been a little better informed.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Having examined evidence from the new deal pathfinder areas and from the new deal for lone parents, the Education and Employment Committee, of which I am a member, has highlighted the importance of personal advisers in targeting advice and assistance that is tailored to the individual's needs. We have been heartened by that, particularly in the light of the earlier scepticism about the ability of the Employment

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Service to undertake that job. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that continuing attention will be given both to the training needs of people in the Employment Service, so that they can undertake that important job, and to the case load, so that the role of personal advisers will continue to be a critical feature of the programme?

Mr. Blunkett: I can give that assurance. Indeed, next year, we will be allocating more money to the Employment Service for training to conduct similar gateway interviews for adult unemployed men and women, so that we can extend the advisory service, which has been so successful. The advisory service provides the gateway and ensures that young people are prepared educationally and socially to take jobs--that is why it sometimes takes longer to place the young person in a vacancy. In Australia, a similar system failed precisely because it was used to reduce the dole queue and not to prepare young people for the world of work of tomorrow and to ensure that they had the training and qualifications to do the job.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): Does the Secretary of State accept that he will need accurate data if he is to give a progress report on the new deal? Will he confirm that his Department does not monitor even the number of starts on the employment option by employer? When I asked the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities for data on the new deal, I was supplied with information from an incorrect source and an incorrect date--the figures were inaccurate by nearly 350 per cent. Will the Secretary of State confirm that, when I requested information on what people in the full-time education and training option were doing, the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities asked his officials to collect those data only the day before he replied to me?

Mr. Blunkett: I am completely convinced that that last point is simply not true. With further education colleges taking on full-time trainees across the board on a rolling programme--not at the beginning of each term--it is not surprising that data are difficult to come by, but I take on board entirely what the hon. Gentleman says about statistical data and monitoring. We inherited a completely hopeless system of monitoring and evaluation of what was taking place in the service. We are updating it, and EDS has taken on a new contract and is making capital investment. I am determined that we will get the monitoring and statistics right. If any inaccuracies are drawn to our attention, we will deal with them immediately.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): The new deal is making progress, and I can see that in my constituency, but does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to continue that process, we need to ensure that the employers who have become involved are kept involved? There have been some problems with delays in paying money due to employers from the Employment Service. Will he ensure that money is paid when it is due, because otherwise we are likely to lose some employers from the scheme?

Mr. Blunkett: I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance. There is no excuse for non-payment and we want to give a lead by preventing the liquidity of small

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companies from being undermined, as it has so often been, by the failure of larger companies to pay on time. I seem to remember that the previous Deputy Prime Minister was going to do something about that, but never did. We will do something about it, and if my hon. Friend draws it to my personal attention and to that of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities, we will act immediately.

Temporary Classrooms (Colchester)

11. Mr. Bob Russell (Colchester): How many of the temporary classrooms in the Colchester constituency he expects will be replaced with permanent accommodation by 2002. [59112]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Charles Clarke): I understand that there are 112 temporary classrooms in 47 maintained schools in Colchester. It is for the local education authority and, until April 1999, the Funding Agency for Schools, to decide in consultation with schools what priority to give to replacing temporary classrooms.

Mr. Russell: I accept that the previous Government left the legacy of all those temporary classrooms, but if the Government want to reduce class sizes, how will the youngsters be accommodated? What priority do the Government give to replacing temporary classrooms? Does the Minister agree that such classrooms are a substandard way of providing accommodation and that the Government are failing a whole generation?

Mr. Clarke: Obviously, I cannot and do not accept that for a moment. I agree that there is a legacy of capital underspending over the past 18 years, which we are setting about repairing. It is for the local education authority to decide how to address the problem and we are encouraging authorities to produce asset management plans to enable them to focus on the best way of lifting the quality of provision in their area. That is the job of Essex LEA, as it is of all other LEAs, and the position on temporary classrooms takes its place within that overall capital strategy that we want to encourage.


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