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The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Paul Boateng): The Government regularly receive representations on spending plans for education. We are taking forward a programme of high investment in education and skills. From £36 billion in 199697, the education and skills budget for the UK stands at £63 billion in 200405, and is set to rise to £76 billion by 200708.
Mr. Battle: My right hon. Friend will recall that some of us spent some 10 years on the Opposition Benches resisting real cuts in education budgets every year under the Conservative Government, so I welcome the real, increased investment particularly in primary schools in Armley, Bramley, Kirkston and Wortley in my neighbourhood. I am thinking of the brand new Five Lane Ends school, and I am looking forward to the Holly Bush school opening next year. I also thank him for the innovative Sure Start funding projects in Bramley and Burley, but will he build on that start and assure me that future education spending plans will include increasing investment in secondary education to secure the future well-being of our communities in west Leeds?
I recall those days only too well, having shared an office with my right hon. Friend for most of themand they were bad days. [Laughter.] They were bad days for education, and the reality is shown by the results of the programmes that the Government have instituted, not least in Leeds, where the excellence in cities initiative has provided intensive support for schools that face particular difficulties. The city academy programme, to which he has referred, and the building schools for the future programme have also been introduced. All those programmes have benefited Leeds and led to improved results in secondary education in Leeds. The commitment is to continue to
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fund those programmes, and the choice at the next general election will be very clear: to return to those bad old days of falling standards, or to maintain progress under Labourrising standards and increased investment in schools.
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): On the day of the pre-Budget report this year, the Chancellor announced that he was raiding departmental budgets to find money to keep down council tax rises next year. The Government have yet to tell us which departmental budgets have been raided. Will the Chief Secretary take this opportunity to clarify that and to tell us whether the Department for Education and Skills and the Department of Health lost money?
Mr. Boateng: Every Department has benefited from increased spending, and what the hon. Gentleman, who speaks for the Liberal Democrats on public spending matters, has to answer is how he could afford continuing programmes to improve standards in education and continuing provision for child care because the reality is that, on every front, the Liberals promise one thing in the House and deliver something quite different when they have control of councils in the country.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Does my right hon. Friend agree that millions of families in this country would not agree that the investment in education over the past eight years has been a waste of public expenditureespecially those who have benefited from free nursery school education, which, as all the research shows, represents very good investment? Much of the investment has been well received and useful, but there is not necessarily a relationship between more money and better results, with one exception: higher education. Our expenditure on higher education has been less generous than in other areas. Is my right hon. Friend aware that, if we are to have an internationally competitive economy, we must invest more in higher education, and soon?
Mr. Boateng: I pay tribute to the role that my hon. Friend has played, as the Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Skills, in ensuring an increase in investment in every area of education. He will recognise the importance of investment in further education, which has gone up under this Government, and the importance, too, of higher education, which he has emphasised. He will recognise, I am sure, that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, in his 10-year science and innovation strategy, paved the way to a bright future for our universities, with a 6 per cent. increase in funding. That is what makes our economy strong and productive, and it will ensure the continuation of the growth that is unparalleled in the G7 at this time.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): Winning the 2012 Olympics would bring significant benefits to the UK as a whole, providing new opportunities for businesses, attracting significant inward investment and significantly boosting tourism. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport is convening a conference next month to look at the economic opportunities for the country as a whole, and we are keen to maximise the potential benefits.
Laura Moffatt: May I say that I am grateful for my hon. Friend's response because in towns such as Crawley, we firmly believe that a successful bid will be of huge benefit to not only London, but the whole of the south-east? We would have new Olympic-standard facilities, and spreading the fantastic wealth that could flow from the Olympic bid would make an enormous contribution to my town.
Mr. Timms: I agree with my hon. Friend about the opportunities for Crawley, the whole region and the country as a whole. The Olympics and Paralympics will inspire people of all ages and abilities to participate in sport and give us the chance to renew our sporting infrastructure. There is especially strong enthusiasm in east London and the borough of Newham, which I represent, because many of the facilities for the games will be located there. However, it is important to draw attention to wider opportunities, such as those that will arise from national Olympic committees outside the UK wanting to set up training facilities around the area in the two years before the games. There are great opportunities that we want to realise.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Timms): We published a 10-year strategy on child care alongside this year's pre-Budget report, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has said, and it recognised variations in child care needs and provision, including those in London. We announced changes to the child care element of working tax credit, which will benefit London families with high child care costs, and a pilot with the Greater London Authority to examine improving the affordability of child care in London.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that access to, and the affordability of, child care in London is a specific problem that has been a barrier to parents who seek to go to work. I warmly welcome not only the investment in Sure Start, children's centres and the neighbourhood nurseries initiative, but the increased generosity of the tax credits for child care announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the pre-Budget report, which will disproportionately benefit London families. However, will my hon. Friend investigate the behaviour of London local authorities, such as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Liberal boroughs such as Southwark and Islington, which take Government money for investment in child care, yet cut their own contributions for child care,
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which Kensington and Chelsea did when it removed £350,000 from its child care contribution? Will he ensure that local authorities work in partnership
Mr. Timms: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work as a consistent champion of improving child care in London. I am grateful for her recognition of the progress that we made in the pre-Budget report towards the aim that every child should have the best start and that parents should have more choice when balancing work and family life. She is right about the increase in the cost limit from £200 to £300 a week for two or more children. I also agree that it is essential for all those involved to play their part in bringing about the improvements that we need in London and elsewhere, so Conservative and Liberal Democrat London councils have a lot to answer for. She is right that we need to examine what is happening.
Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I welcome several of the Minister's initiatives, and I shall put to one side the party political banter that has gone on with my next door neighbour, the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck). However, as a London Member, the Minister will be fully aware that the cost of living in London is fast rising, as was reported only yesterday in the Evening Standard. The effective rate of inflation in London is some 7 per cent. Does he appreciate that there is a need for tax breaks and imaginative tax treatment for child care for parents in London, because the earnings of many of them may be considerably higher than average, yet they none the less find themselves in grave difficulty meeting those child care costs? I will be interested to hear what the Minister says about ensuring that child care benefits go beyond only the poorest and most vulnerable in our society.
Mr. Timms: I think that the hon. Gentleman will particularly welcome the announcements in the report published at the time of the PBR. I have mentioned the increase in the limits for help with child care costs in the child care element of tax credit from £200 to £300 a week, which is particularly beneficial in London, where costs are indeed higher. The hon. Gentleman will also welcome the increase in the proportion of costs for which a claim can be made from 70 per cent. to 80 per cent. The document includes the example of a family household earning £34,000 a year, who will enjoy a benefit of £700 a year. All those benefits will be particularly helpful in London because, as he rightly said, costs there are higher, and that is reflected in our proposals.
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