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24 Oct 2002 : Column 440—continued

2.28 pm

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). I shall make some of the points that he has made in my own way.

One of the problems that the Government have found, whether they like it or not, is the build-up of the expectation—for which they are responsible—that once the new system was introduced everybody would be satisfied and happy. As we have found today, however, several concerns exist about the options that the Government have put forward in their consultation proposals. The expectation has been building up over five and a half years; in fact, it has been building up for longer. As the hon. Member for Stafford said, the original eight local authorities, which called themselves a G8, have grown into the f40 campaign. I shall comment further on that later.

I regret that we find ourselves today with very little time to debate something that will probably be in place for the next 10 years. We are talking about 25 per cent. of public expenditure and putting into operation the framework for local services for some years to come. It is a great pity that many of the people who want to speak today will not be able to do so because of the time allocated.

Sir Patrick Cormack: It should have been a two-day debate.

Mr. McLoughlin: As my hon. Friend says, a subject of this magnitude warrants not a four-hour debate on a Thursday afternoon but a full two-day debate.

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I have heard people speak about the way in which local authority expenditure has been vastly increased, but the Government placed on Derbyshire county council the lowest cap on a local authority in the history of capping. Therefore, it is with a sense of irony that I listen to other people's perceptions of the changes made to local government.

There is no doubt that the system has become far too complex, with far too many grants dependent on local councils meeting Government targets and on the will and wish of Ministers. That is not perceived to be fair and we desperately need a system that is so perceived. I would be the first to accept that the system has fallen into serious disrepute. For example, when I was a member of the governing party, I never felt able to explain fully to my constituents the logic behind, and the fairness of, area cost adjustments. I am not sure that the new system will be that much easier for us to understand. Indeed, the former Secretary of State for Education and Skills, when speaking in Derbyshire, described the system as Xindefensible". If it was indefensible, one wonders why the Government have taken five and half years to come up with new proposals and are now rushing us in this way. Time is short.

I have heard the cries from the Liberal Democrats and others that we should delay the proposed changes for a year. I am not sure that that would be the best approach. It would certainly lead to much disappointment. For example, in Derbyshire in September 2001, the National Union of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers said:

A further delay, as asked for by the Liberal Democrats, would not go down well in my constituency and in my county, and that is probably true elsewhere.

The Government have introduced four options, but allowed for a truncated period of consultation. To start consultation on education funding on 9 July and to end it on 31 December does not provide people with a great opportunity to participate fully in the consultation exercise. That might have been what was in the Government's mind.

I should like there to be a far greater shift of resources into the basic pupil allowance. That is what the f40 campaign wants, so that educational funding can be understandable and transparent. I agree with much of what the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Bennett) said about local authority funding. Local authorities provide such a huge service that our constituents have a right to know, and to see, that they are treated fairly by the Government.

As the hon. Member for Stafford rightly said, the f40 group is a large organisation that has considered all the options for education. I accept that it has considered only education and that, when the Government make their recommendations, they will have to consider the whole sphere of services for local authorities. However, f40 has come up with option 5, which has a great deal of

24 Oct 2002 : Column 442

support in my constituency. I should like to be able to tell my constituents that the Government have addressed what was a difficult formula to understand and that the new formula can be easily understood. That would mean that there would be no excuse for services that we look to local authorities to provide not being provided.

We need a much greater shift of resources into the basic allowance per pupil and a move away from the system calculated according to additional education needs. As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish said, elements of the proposals are so awful to local authorities such as Derbyshire, which would lose under some of them, that I am pretty sure the Government came up with them on the basis that they would draw back from the worst of them and that everyone would be relieved as a result. However, if the changes are to result in long-term benefits for local government and in increased understanding by our constituents, the more transparent the system, the better.

2.35 pm

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme): Given your former constituency, Madam Deputy Speaker, and the contributions of my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), I hope that the House does not feel that a Staffordshire mafia is in operation.

Like everyone else and on behalf of my constituents in Newcastle-under-Lyme, I welcome Ministers' commitments that no area will lose out from the review. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford that we should give praise where it is clearly due. The Government have been able to make the commitment because of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's generous spending review this year.

In Staffordshire, we have no quibble with the extra resources that the Government have put into education and vital public services. We have no quibble with the extra ring-fenced resources that the Government are targeting where need is greatest. Newcastle-under-Lyme, which has some of the most deprived wards in the country, has benefited from sure start, neighbourhood management initiatives and, most recently, a massive pilot scheme for housing renewals.

Like many former mining and traditional industrial areas, Newcastle-under-Lyme faces particular challenges in education—in ambition, aspiration, achievement and staying-on rates after 16. We can therefore have no quibble with the Government's educational maintenance allowance scheme to encourage less-well-off children to stay on in further education. I called for an extension of that scheme in my maiden speech a year ago, and I am glad that we have had it in Newcastle from September, through the Newcastle achievement scheme. No fair-minded person could take issue with such worthy initiatives.

However, as my hon. Friends have already said, we take issue with the proposals for fair funding for Staffordshire and our relative position compared to other counties and areas. Whichever way one looks at it, Staffordshire loses out across the board under the current system. The needs in areas such as mine are equal to, if not greater than, those in areas that always do relatively well.

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Let us consider education as an example. In 2001–02, out of 150 LEAs, Staffordshire ranked 146th in primary school and 144th in secondary school funding per pupil. I do not want to bandy about the names of better-off counties—I would certainly invite guerrilla interventions from the right hon. and hon. Members representing Hertfordshire if I did—but it cannot be right that schoolchildren in my constituency, where schools face great challenges, should be worth more than #300 less each per annum than pupils in many better-off areas. It cannot be right that primary schools in the most deprived areas in my constituency are #30,000 or more worse off than schools in more privileged areas in the south. It cannot be right that secondary schools, such as my old school of Wolstanton high where I am still a governor, are #400,000 worse off than schools in areas that do not have mountains of achievement to climb. That is why I add my voice in support of option 5 advocated by the f40 group for education.

I have received hundreds of letters from constituents following the f40 campaign, which has been so ably co-ordinated in Parliament by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford. I dare not think how many letters my hon. Friend the Minister has been deluged with. I hope that he will agree that f40 is an impressive and persuasive campaign, as is the campaign on issues across the board of the northern alliance group of councils.

I could go through a list of public services in Staffordshire one by one—police, highways, fire and environment—and show how badly we do across the board, but time is short, and the House will be glad to learn that I will not do that. However, I should like to refer briefly to social services, which is perhaps the most precarious service of all. Historically, the mining, pottery, iron and steel and industrial legacy of north Staffordshire has meant great challenges for health. Not before time, they are being addressed by the construction of a new #250 million hospital to replace crumbling old Victorian buildings and by investment in intermediate care and our community hospitals. However, we cannot fully meet those challenges when social services—the community side of the health equation—remain so stretched. That is especially the case when care for the elderly is transferred into the community, which is happening increasingly in Newcastle-under-Lyme and north Staffordshire.

While facing those challenges in personal social care, Staffordshire ranks 124th out of 150 for elderly domiciliary care and 118th for elderly residential care. Despite the best efforts of the education service, our low relative position in education makes it more difficult to address special needs for the most vulnerable children in our communities. Those difficulties are compounded by Staffordshire ranking 133rd out of 150 in children's social services, which rubs salt in the wounds. I welcome the recent speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health heralding a radical shake up of social services for elderly care.

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