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Ms Morris: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman's predecessor bothered to do so. I cannot--I never have and will not--stand at the Dispatch Box and justify the iniquities of the SSA because that is not right. I do not know why a child in Wiltshire should receive less. The London comparison is not a good one to make because, as the hon. Gentleman rightly acknowledged, areas such as Tower Hamlets, Newham, Islington and Hackney have a degree of pupil mobility among asylum seekers that makes their needs different from those of Wiltshire. However, if he chose to compare Wiltshire with other shire counties, he could rightly ask why children in his county were not funded at the same level.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the characteristics that make up the formula are out of date. They served a previous era and are a bygone reflection of the economic and social needs of this country. The previous Government made no effort to change that. Year after year, they amended a formula that was already out of date. We tried to do exactly that in our first year. I always say this and shall it again: I have had to come to the House to answer for the SSA system on several occasions. Members will not be shocked to hear that not one Member of Parliament has called an Adjournment debate to tell Ministers that they are unfairly overfunded as a result of the SSA formula. That should happen soon--it would be a first. Therein lies the difficulty. Although no local authority thinks that it is overfunded, many think that they are underfunded: changing that is not easy.

In the first year, we tried hard. Those from authorities that were used to relative overfunding--I emphasise the word "relative"--did not want the change. It will be tough to manage the transition. We found that we could not get the consensus that we wanted to achieve on the change in the SSA. It was strange that when local authority organisations came to see the Secretary of State, they never came with a party label. They never came in party groupings; they always came in shire groupings, metropolitan groupings, unitary groupings, F40 groupings or former coal community groupings.

After 12 months, we decided that our brave attempt to change the SSA formula would not work, but we were not prepared to give up. As the hon. Member for North Wiltshire knows, we have published a Green Paper and put the reform of education funding in the wider context of reform of local authority funding. To reassure the hon. Gentleman, I shall tell him about two groups set up by the Department to examine different aspects of the Green Paper.

First, we have a group made up of representatives of the education world--local authorities, Churches, teacher unions and head teachers. It is considering how we can compensate for disadvantage in the formula, so that we can move away from the old characteristics that served a bygone era, and see where extra funding is needed, on top of good quality basic funding. The second group is examining tentative methods of reforming the way in which central Government pay the money to local authorities.

I know that it is almost four years since the general election. I say without any feeling of having let people down that every hon. Member knows how difficult it is

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to get the formula right. The hon. Gentleman knows better than most the consequences of getting it wrong. No matter how many terms the Government serve, I expect that we will not have many more opportunities to have a good go at getting the formula right. Even if it means not having done it in the first year, I would sooner get the formula right by putting down firm markers and routing the change through a good, sensible, well thought out Green Paper, which has received many responses.

The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that the vast majority of responses to the education element of the Green Paper were about the SSA funding formula. He is right to draw the iniquities to our attention, but I can assure him and his head teachers that the Department for Education and Employment does not need persuading of the need for change. We spend a great deal of our time trying to explain that, and we would prefer not to have to do so. That is a note of optimism for the future.

Mr. Gray rose--

Ms Morris: I was about to deal with the points on which I fundamentally disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but I shall give way.

Mr. Gray: Will the hon. Lady follow the lead of officials in the Department of Health and allow Wiltshire an area cost adjustment?

Ms Morris: I apologise for not being familiar with the area cost adjustment for the Department of Health. When we realised that we could not change the whole formula, we were faced with the choice between changing it piecemeal or doing nothing. We decided to leave it as it was. It is in a mess because of the tinkering that has taken place year on year. Conservative Members who served in previous Governments know that that is extremely time-consuming for the Department and leads to another round of Adjournment debates initiated by hon. Members whose areas have not come out of the process as well as the Government intended.

The area cost adjustment causes many tears to be shed, metaphorically, in schools. It is a matter that we want to address, but I cannot accept that the Government have not taken action to support schools in the hon. Gentleman's Wiltshire constituency. We have increased funding. I do not want to give a list of figures--I want to get to the heart of what is happening.

Schools in Wiltshire have not done as well as they would have done, had the formula been more equitable. Without looking into the future, which I cannot do because the formula has not been set, I suppose that the hon. Gentleman might have reason to believe, and certainly reason to hope, that his constituency might fare better under any renewed formula, but we shall have to wait and see. That would be a commitment; it would be jumping the gun, ahead of the consultation. This year, the increase in Wiltshire's SSA was slightly above average; it was more than 5 per cent. There are other moneys, too.

The SSA is no longer the only route of money to schools, which is one of the great changes that has occurred under this Government. I shall be blunt: by routing moneys by ways other than the SSA, although that remains the major source of revenue funding for schools,

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we have been able to be more equitable than might otherwise have been the case. I shall give two examples of that.

The share of the standards fund that Wiltshire has received has increased from £1.7 million in the last year of the previous Tory Government to £10.14 million under this Government for 2001-02. Overall spending in Wiltshire under Labour over the past three years has risen by £350 for each pupil. The hon. Gentleman can say in speeches in this House that that is not enough--as a Minister, I will certainly never be satisfied that that is enough--but he owes us a degree of honesty. He should realise that, in the last three years of his Tory Administration, funding fell by £60 per pupil. I am proud of that difference.

Over and above that, we have introduced a direct grant to Wiltshire schools. That is funded not through the SSA formula or by taking into account any deprivation needs, but by cash--a cheque in the post straight to schools. The average amount received by secondary schools is £70,000, and primary schools receive £24,000. I believe that we are now into our third year of such funding. In Wiltshire, that will make a total of £5.7 million for 2001-02 alone--in addition to an above average increase in SSA of more than 5 per cent. and a massive increase in the standards funds.

If we had put that £5.7 million through the SSA formula, Wiltshire would not have received as much as it has. Direct grant is not the bulk of the revenue, but it is an acknowledgement that we understand the difficulties of the SSA formula. Above all other grants, the direct grant has been widely welcomed by head teachers. They can make good use of it.

Mr. Gray: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Morris: I will as long as the hon. Gentleman promises to allow me a few more minutes to make my points.

Mr. Gray: The Minister said that the direct grant has been welcomed by head teachers, but how does she explain the fact that every single head teacher of every single school in Wilshire, both secondary and primary, has attacked the Government in petition and by letter? They say that the Government are setting deficit budgets. It is simply not true to say that they have enough money this year.

Ms Morris: I will have to guess what the hon. Gentleman's head teachers might say to him. However, if he went into schools and asked whether head teachers liked the special grant, he would hear them say yes. His head teachers have been suffering from an iniquitous SSA formula for far longer than four years. They are fed up with it because they went through 18 years of Tory Government, during which time it was not changed. There is a cumulative feeling of being fed up with an SSA system that does not serve them well. The point that I made was that the £5.7 million special grant to Wiltshire has been widely welcomed by head teachers. I do not think that one of them would want to return it or want us to redistribute it through the SSA formula.

Another point that I should like to make concerns capital. As I said, money now goes to schools in different ways. This Government have trebled the amount of capital

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that has been spent on schools. In the last year of the Tory Government, when Wiltshire shared a local education authority with Swindon, the hon. Gentleman will know that his Government provided £4.7 million in capital. This year, the figure for just Wiltshire, without Swindon, is £54 million. I am incredibly proud of that figure.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Chippenham. I understand that the school is to be totally rebuilt, which will be widely welcomed.

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