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James Purnell: The hon. Gentleman referred to lies about funding, but I wish to correct him. He might like to comment on the fact that funding in the last term of the previous Conservative Government went down by £100 per pupil when, in the past five years of Labour Government, it went up by more than £500. Does he not accept that his GDP figure had more to do with the growth of the economy than with the status of education funding?

Mr. Luff: I have news for the hon. Gentleman. Governments can spend only what they can afford to spend. I think that the Chancellor might face problems in that regard in forthcoming years in this Parliament. I warn the hon. Gentleman to be careful about such comparisons.

Who do schools report to and who are they accountable to?

Mr. Chaytor: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Luff: No, I have taken nine minutes already and I promised to try to be brief.

Mr. Andrew Turner: My hon. Friend has another half hour to go.

Mr. Luff: I hope not.

Schools should be accountable to parents, governors, pupils, councillors and LEAs. Is that end of the list? Heavens—no. A local head teacher sat down with me the other day and, off the top of his head, cited a few of the other bodies to which he was accountable. They include Ofsted, ConneXions, the Department for Education and Skills, the regulations implicit in the standards fund, external assessors for performance payments, visiting assessors for head teachers and governors, examination boards, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and—because he has a sixth form—the learning and skills councils.

I should dearly like to explore the learning and skills councils at some length, but I will not. They are a subject for debate in themselves as they are a seriously pernicious influence in that they remove a large chunk of local accountability. The proposals on their powers that are currently being consulted on are an outrage that the Government should abandon.

Not surprisingly, the problem with all these bodies is that they provide conflicting advice. The DFES often provides conflicting advice. At present, I am aware of a case—I cannot identify it because it is too sensitive—where the advice on exclusions is contradictory. The Protection of Children Act 1999 means that the head

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teacher is obliged to exclude, but circular 10/99 on exclusions means that he cannot. He is bound to break one of the Government's directives whichever course of action he takes. Such cases are repeated in area after area of education.

We can argue about the quantity that schools receive, but where do they get it from? Head teachers want a single metaphorical cheque in the post that tells them how much they will have for the next school year. They should be able to decide how to spend it. Instead, however, there are 29 streams of funding and the complexity of some of them—particularly the standards fund money—is so great that many head teachers say that they will not bother to apply for money any more. They do not want to go through all the lines of accountability and all the paperwork to obtain a relatively small sum of money. It is a big issue and the Government need to understand it.

I recently tabled a written question to ask Ministers how many separate funding streams there were. It was a numerical question—it contained the term "how many"—and the Minister for School Standards supplied me with a lot of words but not with an answer. I am not surprised, because I do not think that it was an answer that he wanted to give.

I shall not labour the point about GDP, but I remind Labour Members that the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, promised in the 1997 Labour party manifesto that

That manifesto pledge was spectacularly broken, and it is amazing that the Government amendment to our motion boasts about raising expenditure to the levels that they inherited from the previous Conservative Government. The amendment does not actually say that, but that is what it claims. The Government are taking credit for getting expenditure as a percentage of GDP back to the level that they inherited from us.

There has been a significant underspend by the DFES recently. How I wish that that underspend—it comes to about £1 billion—had been parcelled up into cheques and sent to the 40 or so worst-funded LEAs.

I said a lot about education spending in Worcestershire in a debate two weeks ago. I accept that the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster) cannot respond because he is a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the DFES, but he accused me locally of scaremongering. I wrote to him to say that I objected to that, because all I was doing was giving publicity to a parliamentary answer that I had received from a Minister.

Mr. Dorrell: Scary.

Mr. Luff: It was pretty scary. My right hon. Friend anticipates something that I may say later.

Let me provide the background to this case. Earlier this year, head teachers in my county mounted an unprecedented lobby. They were concerned that Worcestershire receives £9 million a year less than the average shire county—a big shortfall—and that results in a real problem for our schools. I have sought to be fair by pointing out that the problem has been created by both parties. In 1991, the Conservative Government introduced a formula that led to the current situation but, in 1997, the incoming Government did nothing to address the formula.

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They allowed the situation not only to go uncorrected, but to get worse. The major parties should hang their heads in shame; it is a problem for both.

Mr. Chaytor: The hon. Gentleman refers to an important point. He said that this Government did nothing to address the problem, but that is not true. Earlier, he referred to the increasing use of centralised funding streams, but does he not agree that schools in Worcestershire, like the schools in my constituency of Bury, North, have benefited from the use of central funding streams? That money was top-sliced from the standard spending assessment and, had it been distributed through the SSA, the differentials in funding would have been even greater.

Mr. Luff: I will not deny that there has been a marginal change as a result of that. The fact is, however, that Droitwich Spa high school in my constituency gets £460,000 less than a school in Hertfordshire. Therefore, there is still a huge problem. There has been some tinkering, but no attempt to tackle the real issues. However, we are promised a new formula in a year or so.

It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for Worcester and the Under–Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), who responded to a debate in Westminster Hall the other week, are trying to turn this into a highly partisan and political issue. The hon. Member for Worcester wrote to all the schools in his constituency with a letter that he wanted them to send to parents and that he wanted the parents to send back to him. I caricature the letter slightly, but it basically said that all the problems in education were the fault of the previous Government and that the only good things to have happened in schools were the achievement of the two Labour MPs for the county.

That stretches credibility a bit. The hon. Gentleman should listen to the wise words of the Secretary of State who said, when she opened the debate, that the previous Conservative Government were in power a long time ago. It is time for the Government to stop blaming us for the problems that they have created or, at least, have been a significant party to. More important, I do not think that politicians should take credit for things that others have done. We all know that people power won Worcestershire the limited extra £1.35 million last year. It was no achievement of any of the MPs. We all helped the campaign along and I am proud to have done that. However, ultimately, the power of the people of Worcestershire won the money for the county. It was not a lot of money—£1.35 million against a shortfall of £9 million—but it helped. I was grateful for it, but it did not exactly solve our problems.

In the debate last week, I asked the Under–Secretary of State for Education and Skills, whether the money would be repeated, but he ducked the question. So I drafted a written question and, for once, got an answer. The Minister for School Standards told me:

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I was told in a separate answer:

Therefore, I was told categorically by Ministers that there are no plans to repeat that one-off payment.

However, in a newspaper article the hon. Member for Worcester said:

With respect, I have parliamentary answers on that and I do not like it when they are dismissed as irrelevant. They should not be, although for all I know that might be how the Government think of them. When he accused me of scaremongering, I was a bit upset and wrote to him. I said:

a parliamentary question—I only sent him one; I could, and should, have sent him two—

The hon. Gentleman's reply surprised me. I thought about raising it with the Chair, but decided that I could take care of myself. His letter, which is written on paper with the House of Commons letterhead, said:

he has, of course, nothing to be afraid of: if we met in a dark alley, he is a good deal taller than me and I know who would come off the worse—

I did not take kindly to being described as "dim". I always thought that I was quick on the uptake. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] I am grateful for the approbation of my colleagues.

If the hon. Gentleman is an hon. Member, which he is, and he implies that I am dim, he must be right, so I worried about it. When I told him to stop saying that I was scaremongering and he told me that I was dim, I realised that he thought that I was scaremongering. He must believe that parliamentary answers count for nothing, or perhaps there is another explanation. I thought a great deal about the problem and realised that he was right: I was scaremongering. According to the dictionary, it means to encourage panic, and the Government's education policies in general and on funding in particular should cause panic in Worcestershire. They certainly scare me. Clearly the hon. Gentleman agrees that they are frightening. When he accused me of scaremongering, he was praising me for drawing attention to the failure of Government policy, not criticising me. I was indeed dim, and I apologise to him for the misunderstanding. I am grateful for his support for my attack on the Government.

I finish on a serious point. I received a note today from the Worcestershire head teachers forum about its fair funding campaign for 2001-02. It runs through some of

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the problems that Worcestershire schools face as a result of unfairness in the funding system. It expresses concern that it might take a long time for a new formula to be phased in and another generation of Worcestershire school children could lose out. The note states:

It is unprecedented for head teachers to club together and to produce money out of their own pockets, and to ask their teachers and governors to do the same. No public money is involved. The money is purely private to fund a legal action against the Government. The crisis is so deep in Worcestershire that those people are prepared to take that extraordinary step. I believe that they are right and I invite all the county's MPs—Conservative, Labour and Independent—to return to bipartisan politics on this vital issue and support the head teachers.

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