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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, given that the Secretary of State and the Minister with responsibility for schools said that they would stay closely in touch with schools on this matter, there is no answer to the specific question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp? Does she also agree with a teacher who wrote to me only a week ago saying that she was taking voluntary retirement in order to help her school by not filling a post? That post is not registered as not being filled due to lack of money, yet that is precisely why that teacher is taking voluntary retirement.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the department is talking to education authorities and individual schools. Much information is available, both anecdotal and in terms of the returns put forward by education authorities. We talked to education authorities about the number of redundancies being

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approximately 300. But that figure comes from notices that are issued; it is not necessarily the figure that will appear in the final part of the equation because, of course, things change. Noble Lords will be aware of the steps that we have taken to ensure that schools are supported, and we continue to work with them.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, under the present funding arrangements, there are both winners and losers. The winners are characteristically—or shall I say "understandably"—keeping silent. If the Government want to move towards direct funding for schools, how much extra money will be needed and how much extra money will be available?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I say to the right reverend Prelate that, because of the new funding formula, many schools have done very well. If they are being quiet, it is because they are getting on with the business of teaching and learning. Of course, that is no consolation for those who feel that this has been a difficult year. My right honourable friend is considering the available options in terms of how best to ensure stability in the funding system and appropriate funding for next year. He will report to another place shortly.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that, where roll numbers continue to fall, there is bound to be a significant effect on the teacher establishment, even if local authorities seek to assist in transitional periods? Would my noble friend care to say how many jobs will be or have been lost as a result of falling rolls rather than because of government cuts or supposed lack of generosity?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, my noble friend has exactly hit upon the issue. Indeed, at present rolls are falling and redundancies are being created, as they are created every year as differences in school populations occur. At this stage, it is impossible to say precisely why we have redundancies in certain schools and certain education authorities—hence, my not wishing to misinform the House.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, many schools are running deficits at present in order to overcome their difficulties. What advice will the department be giving to those schools early in the new year when they are in a true financial crisis?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we hope to give advice to schools long before early in the new year. As the noble Lord will appreciate, it is important that schools which run a deficit know as early as possible precisely what the funding situation will be. The department is working on that as we speak.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, will the Minister ensure that the current crisis does not overshadow the important steps that her department has taken to improve inclusion for the most marginalised

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children—for example, by reducing the number of children excluded from school by 20 per cent since 1996–97?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as the noble Earl acknowledged in his question, it is important that we deliver the education system for all children. The most marginalised and excluded children deserve our greatest support and we must ensure that they have the best teaching and learning experience. It is our objective to continue to do so as effectively as we can.

Natural Disaster Reduction Initiatives

2.57 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their current and planned expenditure on reducing the adverse effect of natural disasters in developing countries and how much of this expenditure is devoted to preventive measures.

The Secretary of State for International Development (Baroness Amos): My Lords, the Department for International Development's office for humanitarian assistance deals with the immediate aftermath of a disaster. Preventive work includes addressing the scale of the hazard, reducing the community's vulnerability and strengthening its capacity to deal with disasters. Much of that preventive work is integrated into wider development programmes. Therefore, it is difficult to itemise all prevention expenditure. A sum of 3 million is provided annually to international bodies working on prevention.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Does she agree that the United Nations International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, which finished a couple of years ago, showed that in government agencies, academia and the private sector there was considerable UK expertise in the science and technology of natural disaster reduction and that that could be used more effectively to partner work in developing countries with further support by her own and other relevant departments?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that there is significant UK expertise in the area of disaster reduction. Indeed, the Department for International Development supports a number of initiatives that call upon UK expertise. These include a recent Overseas Development Institute study on the economic and financial impact of natural disasters and annual support to the British Red Cross Society. We are in the process of reviewing how we might step up our work in this important area.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Secretary of State agree that there are two stages? One is disaster relief and the other is dealing with the many major problems that continue long after the immediate

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disaster relief has been carried out. Is it not important that NGOs working in these areas should pick up that part of the job and do their best to deal with it?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that there are two stages—in fact, there are three. There is prevention work. We are carrying out considerable work in countries like Bangladesh and in the Caribbean region. There is then disaster relief itself and what one does afterwards. I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to engage a range of actors, including NGOs, in that process.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the project being supported by the ProVention Consortium that encourages young, innovative professionals to come together in what I believe is called "virtual space" to share best practice and ideas? Is she also aware that the size of that pilot project is very small? The grants are only 5,000 and it involves around 50 people. If the project proves very worth while, will she encourage the consortium to be much more generous and enable the project to be spread far more widely?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of the work of the ProVention Consortium. In fact, we support the consortium. I take the point made by the noble Baroness. If there is success and we are able to increase funding, I shall be happy to look at that.

Post Office Closure Proposals

3.1 p.m.

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In light of the proposals announced on 7th July to close four post offices in Colne, Lancashire, how many proposals to close urban post offices they have made in the last three months.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, proposals for post office branch closures are an operational matter for Post Office Limited. The company is currently engaged in a process described as the urban network reinvention programme to reduce the number of outlets in urban areas in order to create a viable network for the future and to reduce the risk of unplanned closures. I understand that in the three months from the beginning of April to the end of June, Post Office Limited has entered into public consultation for 233 closure proposals under that programme.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that slightly depressing reply. It may be an operational matter for the Post Office, but the Government will get the blame. I hope the Minister listens. Does he agree that the consultation period that applies to the proposals, generally of four weeks, is not adequate to allow local people and particularly local organisations like parish councils and town councils to give them

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proper consideration and to make representations? That was specifically the case in Colne. Is he aware that this week is the beginning of local wakes weeks—Colne holidays—when the schools break up for the summer and most people go on holiday? It is therefore a most inappropriate time to hold the consultation. Will he make representations to the Post Office in this instance to extend the consultation period to the end of August?

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