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Baroness Fisher of Rednal: My Lords, is it not a fact that all the borrowing of local authorities, including that of Birmingham which I know better than most, has all been authorised under government-allowed borrowing costs? In other words, the Government have said, "Yes, you can borrow the money". Therefore, the responsibility is equal. Does the noble Earl know that the transport Minister was in Birmingham yesterday and said that, these days, it has become just about the most attractive city in the country? Indeed, it is a credit to the people involved and 10 years of Labour control.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, it is also 15 years of Conservative Government. I can also tell the House that it took the Birmingham Labour-controlled authority only eight years to increase its payroll by 10,000 jobs. However, I return to the main point. Local authority borrowing is, indeed, approved by central government. Central government approve that borrowing on the basis of need. The most important point behind my noble friend's question is the fact that the Government have introduced both rules and incentives to reduce debts which are costing the country nearly £4 billion a year.

Lord Ezra: My Lords, may I suggest to the noble Earl that other factors should be taken into account in discussing the success or failure of local authorities? I believe that Sheffield, for example—where I am much involved as chairman of a company which distributes heat from the city incinerator to heat that city—has

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contributed a great deal to environmental improvement and those factors should also be taken into account quite apart from indebtedness.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, the Government certainly applaud all the CHP schemes which are currently being run in certain cities. I think this matter is a little wide of the Question but the record of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, in the CHP field is much admired.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, would the noble Earl care to give the national figure for debt per head after 15 years of Tory rule compared with the first year of this Government?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I told the House that our total local authority debt in England is £37 billion and that the total cost of servicing that debt is £4 billion. That is equivalent to £110 in servicing debt for every adult in this country.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Manchester's £1 billion of debt is still, after the sale of assets, covered by £6 billion of assets; that Birmingham's £1.2 billion of debt is covered by £3.5 billion of assets; and that, in the case of Sheffield and Leeds, £750 million of debt is covered by £3 billion of assets? Does not the Minister agree that any houseowner would, in these days of negative equity, be happy to have a debt—a mortgage—that is only one-third or one-sixth of the asset value of his house?

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for pointing out the mathematics involved. When the service charges of local authority debts reach a figure of £4 billion a year and local authorities are sitting on assets of considerable value, it makes sense that those local authorities clear their debt by using their assets.

Education: Use of Resources

3.2 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are confident that those responsible for the delivery of education are making the best possible use of the resources available to them to give good value in educational provision to pupils and their parents.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, our reforms have provided a framework in which power and responsibility have been devolved to those closest to service delivery, enabling them to secure maximum value from the resources available. We see great opportunities for the better use of resources in all aspects of the education system.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that reply, but does he not accept that it is extremely frustrating for the average taxpayer, who has seen the expenditure at national level on education increasing year by year in most generous terms over the past 15 years, still to have to listen daily to complaints at local school level that resources are

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being squeezed? I believe that the average taxpayer and the average parent would like some explanation of where things are going wrong.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, it obviously is important that schools are properly funded, but what is clear is that at the current level of funding there is a great deal that schools and indeed others involved in the education system could do to get better value for the money that is already being spent.

Baroness David: My Lords, would the Minister say that the cost of the national curriculum, which was nearly £500 million—that has been spent on an exercise that has had to be radically altered—showed the best use of resources and has given good value in educational provision?

Lord Lucas: Yes, my Lords.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that local education authorities hold back on average about one-third of their general schools budget and therefore only delegate about two-thirds to schools? In view of that, will my noble friend agree that some relatively small economies in LEA spending, and/or a shift of allocation of funding, could result in a quite significant increase of resources for local schools and the pupils in them?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, the situation differs very much from one LEA to another. I would quarrel slightly with the figures that my noble friend has produced. There is a lot of LEA education spending which is not available to be delegated because the Government have decided that it should continue to be disbursed centrally. Many authorities are now delegating better than 90 per cent. of the money that they have available to delegate; others are moving beyond that. We very much applaud what they have done and we believe that it results in the much more efficient use of the moneys involved. When one looks at the breakdown of what remains with local authorities, there are differences—for example, some authorities are spending 5 per cent. on administration while others are spending 1 per cent. on administration—which would lead us to think that there was some further scope for some authorities to do better than they are.

Lord Desai: My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that, as a proportion of total budget, education's share has not risen over the past few years? Will he also confirm that in terms of spending in secondary schools per student, the figure has fallen?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not quite clear what timescale the noble Lord is thinking of. I am sure he is as aware as I am—

Lord Desai: Fifteen years!

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am sure he is as aware as I am that over the past 15 years the real term spending per student in secondary schools has risen very substantially by around 50 per cent. I do not have the figures with me on the share of the total budget, but I will write to the noble Lord on that.

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Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the OECD report last week which found that we spend more per pupil than do either Japan or Germany and yet our standards of education for 16 year-olds are very much lower than theirs, particularly for children of average ability? Would my noble friend confirm that that means there must still be considerable waste in our system, no doubt particularly in our more pernicious local education authorities?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am not sure that I would characterise it as waste so much as an opportunity to do a great deal more with the money that we already spend.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, since the Question relates to the best possible use of resources, is the noble Lord aware that his right honourable friend the Prime Minister's claim that there are two education authority administrators for every three teachers has been widely challenged, especially by the Local Government Management Board, which asserts that the ratio is 1:15? As we attempt to reconcile these figures, can the Minister help us by explaining what categories of employee have to be included in the term "administrator" in order to justify his right honourable friend's claim, given that the Local Government Management Board includes curriculum development officers, education inspectors, education welfare officers, educational psychologists, nursery and classroom assistants, school library staff, youth and community workers, careers guidance officers, special needs support officers as well as clerical staff?

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not have the answer with me. I shall write to the noble Lord. My belief is that the figures refer to the total of local authority bureaucratic overhead rather than those particularly concerned in schools, but I may well be wrong on that and I shall write to the noble Lord.


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