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Ms Morris: My hon. Friend is right. He and my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock) have worked hard and lobbied on behalf of their constituents in the county to get the formula changed. Now we know what the hon. Member for West Worcestershire meant when he described the previous finance figures as representing a good, tight ship with tight budgeting and tight financing. That they were, but as a result spending was below SSA and children did not get the investment that they needed.
That gives me the opportunity to say that, shamefully, secondary and primary funding per pupil in Worcestershire fell during the last four years of the Tory Government. There was no year on year improvement. The hon. Gentleman did not come to the House to discuss how much extra his area had received; it received less. That is why people are so cross in Worcestershire today. I understand that and feel for them. Their children are in school while education expenditure is increasing and they want a fair share of the extra money that we are allocating. They feel that they have got a rough deal, but let us be clear about the fact that the letters that they wrote before the election of a Labour Government in 1997 were about a real cut in funding, year on year on year. Under this Government, their argument is that they are not getting as big a share of a bigger cake as they would like. I have some sympathy with them on straight SSAs.
Sir Michael Spicer: There is no example that I can recollect, certainly in my constituency, of schools saying under a Conservative Administration, "We simply cannot carry on with our present budget." Under the Minister's Administration, that is exactly what is being said. It is
Ms Morris: I am not sure where the hon. Gentleman was in the years before 1997. For many of those years, I taught in schools and I remember what happened under the Conservative Government. Year after year, there were teacher redundancies because of shortfalls in the budget. I do not think that Worcestershire's schools were different from any other schools in the country in having to cope with a reduced budget. Under the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported, the amount of money per pupil fell, but it has risen under this Government. Those are not our figures. No one contests them. The hon. Gentleman must justify the history; I do not have to do so.
Expenditure is increasing. The soreness felt by Worcestershire's schools is about their share of a bigger cake. That is why there is an urgency about changing the formula. I cannot in all honesty explain why children in Worcestershire get less money than children in Wiltshire--I think that that was the example given by the hon. Gentleman. I do not know the exact figures for those two counties, but the system is irrational. He is right about that. It is a historic system, which does not serve us well.
The hon. Gentleman is right that we were elected on a pledge of "Education, education, education". We said that we would spend more on education than did our predecessors, and we have delivered. There is more money going into the SSA. There is an increase this year of £8.82 million, or 3.71 per cent.--not a cut, as there was under the Conservative Government.
More money is going into Worcestershire's schools, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will welcome, as the head teacher of Droitwich Spa high school has welcomed publicly in a letter, the £1.3 million that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made available last Monday, in acknowledgement of the fact that Worcestershire has had a difficult settlement this year. The money will go some way towards helping with that.
Mr. Luff: I have a letter from the head teacher of Droitwich Spa high school, in which she makes it clear that the extra £1.3 million is welcome. We all welcome it, but it is only a little over half the amount required to close the funding gap between what we have now and a standstill budget. Schools in Worcestershire are still facing a crisis, and the gap is growing between them and the national average for funding per pupil, as it has grown every year under the right hon. Lady's Government.
Ms Morris: The hon. Gentleman is right that the head teacher goes on to say that. I was going to deal with that. One of the things that has changed between the previous Government and the present one is that money goes into schools in many different ways. That does not happen just through the SSA, although the SSA is the major source of funding for schools.
I draw the House's attention to capital investment. One of the most shameful things that happened under the previous Government was the manifest under-investment in the school buildings in which our teachers teach and our pupils learn. The figures for Hereford and Worcester--the joint county before the split--show that in 1996-97, the last year for which the Conservative Government had responsibility for the budget, capital expenditure was £6.02 million. That is the figure for both counties.
In this year, in Worcestershire alone, the corresponding figure is £26.5 million--not for the two counties, but for Worcestershire alone. There is £11 million as part of the new deal for schools, in direct grant--no borrowing and no interest to be paid by taxpayers in Worcestershire. A further £1 million has gone to the county in order to
I am not seeking to defend a formula that ill serves the children of Worcestershire--that would be dishonourable and dishonest. I am saying that we are trying our best, with all reasonable speed, to change that. We are the Government who have given a pledge that that will change. We are the only Government who have set in motion a consultation system under which we hope to bring about change. I would sooner achieve that through consensus among local authorities than have one local authority at another local authority's throat, as is the case at present.
Despite that, children in Worcestershire now receive more money for their education than they ever did under the Government whom the hon. Member for West Worcestershire supported. Schools and buildings in Worcestershire are in better shape and are becoming fit for education in the 21st century, because the Government have invested in education. In that way, we have more than kept our pledge.