David Gauke answers questions from MPs.
1. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education on school budgets in (a) England and (b) the St Ives constituency. 
The Government are protecting the core schools budget in real terms, reaching almost £41 billion this year. The Department for Education has consulted on a national funding formula to address the current postcode lottery in schools funding. The consultation lasted for 14 weeks, and received over 25,000 responses. The Government are considering the responses carefully, and will publish a response in the summer. For the St Ives constituency, the proposals would mean an increase in schools funding of 0.4%.
The majority of schools in my constituency are rated good or outstanding, due to the hard work and determination of teaching staff and their heads. However, Government funding for schools has not kept up with increasing costs, which, according to the House of Commons Library, increased by 3.4% in 2016-17 and will increase by 8.7% by 2020. What message can I take back to my schools, which tell me they cannot maintain those standards if school funding does not keep up with these increased costs?
The Government do recognise that schools, like other organisations, face additional costs, such as salary increases. That is why the Department for Education is supporting schools to become more efficient, including with over £1 billion of savings from better procurement by 2019-20. It is also worth pointing out that, by protecting the total schools budget in real terms, as pupil numbers increase, so will the amount of money in our schools.
If the Government are protecting the budget, why is the average cut in my constituency 8%, rising in some village schools, including to 22% in Butterknowle?
As I have said, the reality is that the total core schools budget is increasing, and it can increase only if we have a strong economy that can pay for it. It is also right that we have a fairer funding formula to ensure that that money is distributed fairly.
3. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure the protection of money following each child under the proposed new schools funding formula. 
The Government are protecting the total core schools budget in real terms. That is possible only through careful management of the economy. As a result, school funding is at its highest ever level, at almost £41 billion in 2017-18. Spending will increase to £42 billion in 2019-20 as pupils numbers rise. We are also delivering our manifesto commitment to implement fairer schools funding. The recent national funding formula consultation includes generous transitional protections for schools that would see a reduction in their funding. The Government are carefully considering replies to the consultation and will respond in the summer.
The 2015 Conservative manifesto promised that
“the amount of money following your child into school will be protected”.
However, the National Audit Office found that schools face a real-terms cut of 8% per pupil by 2019-20, even before the cuts the new national funding formula will bring to more than 9,000 schools in England. Will the Government therefore confirm that the Tory manifesto pledge on per pupil funding is now in tatters?
Not at all. We are protecting the total schools budget in real terms and implementing our manifesto commitment to introduce fairer funding. It is right that we do so.
The Government are clearly not protecting pupil per capita funding in York, which is currently the seventh-worst funded local authority and will experience a £288 per child cut in funding. How is that protecting the formula?
I would expect the hon. Lady to share my view that it is not right that we fund schools on the basis of what has happened historically. Every pupil in England should be assessed on the same basis. It cannot be right, for example, that pupils in Hackney receive 50% more than pupils in Barnsley. That does not seem to me to be fair and it is right that the Government address that.
11. What steps he is taking to support regional infrastructure development. 
14. What steps he is taking to support regional infrastructure development. 
We recognise the importance of infrastructure provision in all regions of the United Kingdom. That is why at autumn statement 2016 we committed additional capital to fund high-value economic infrastructure through the national productivity investment fund. We are committed to putting local and regional needs at the heart of this fund. For example, we are spending £1.1 billion on local projects to improve our existing transport networks. That will deliver improvements to hundreds of roads across the country.
What further help can my right hon. Friend give to infrastructure projects in Southend West, including the A127 corridor improvement works?
My hon. Friend is a tireless advocate of the case for Southend. Indeed, we met in November to discuss some of these issues. It is worth pointing out that the Government have supported improvements to the A127, with more than £35 million of local growth funding. Furthermore, local authorities will have the opportunity to bid into the £490 million local transport pot as part of the national productivity investment fund.
I welcome the investment in the electrification of the rail line between Manchester and Preston, but what more can the Chancellor do to ensure that we have vital road links, such as the Westhoughton bypass?
The Government are investing more than £13 billion in transport projects in the north and supporting local road schemes such as the Manchester airport relief road and the Heysham M6 link road. The Government are also looking at options for the Highways England north-west quadrant that should ease congestion in places such as Westhoughton.
This Government cannot even begin to pretend that they are interested in boosting infrastructure outside London and the south-east. We need only look at transport spending to prove that. In London, transport spending is £1,000 per head; in the north-east it is not even £300. Does that not tell us about the Government’s record and their priorities?
As I said a moment or so ago, we are investing more than £13 billion in transport projects in the north. HS2 will benefit the north of England. We make no apologies for also wanting to ensure that we invest in Crossrail to deliver for London, yes, but also for the economy of the whole United Kingdom.
Before the last general election, Conservative Ministers were committed to the electrification of the Leeds-Harrogate-York line, on which commuters still suffer from travelling on Pacer trains. Will we do any better after the next general election and finally see the electrification of this line?
As I said, we are investing in our infrastructure. We already had significant plans before the autumn statement, which involved further investment to give us scope to improve our transport infrastructure. It is worth pointing out, however, that aggregate investment in economic infrastructure will rise by almost 60% between 2016-17 and 2020-21.
19. As a Huddersfield Town fan, may I also congratulate Brighton & Hove Albion on being promoted to the premiership? We look forward to meeting Brighton in the premiership next season once we triumph in the play-off final at Wembley.As for infrastructure spending, as new trains replace the Pacers and HS3 is developed—we have the smart motorways, too—can we ensure that we develop interconnectivity between the northern towns, not just between the great cities of the north? 
My hon. Friend makes an important point about interconnection between northern towns. It is worth pointing out that we are putting local and regional needs at the heart of the national productivity investment fund. That is why we are spending £1.1 billion on local projects to improve our existing transport networks.
In the same vein, I congratulate the Economic Secretary to the Treasury’s local team on their success, and I hope that I will be joined in congratulating Livingston FC, who have also gained promotion.
On infrastructure spending, there is no doubt that Crossrail is an engineering feat, but it is costing nearly more than a third of Scotland’s national budget. When will we see more devolution of infrastructure funding—perhaps to fix some of the problems of the Minister’s colleagues?
It is the case that Scotland benefits from the Barnett consequentials of investment in things such as HS2, which will provide a step change in rail connectivity along the east coast corridor, bringing significant benefits to the UK economy as a whole. However, we can afford to spend money on infrastructure only if we have a stable and strong economy to deliver it.
17. What steps he is taking to improve productivity. 
The Government recognise the challenge that Britain’s productivity performance represents, and we are resolved to tackle the issue. At last year’s autumn statement we launched the national productivity investment fund to provide £23 billion-worth of additional spending, focused on areas key to boosting productivity. We went further at the Budget by investing an additional £500 million in technical education to ensure that businesses can access the skills they need.
With the average worker spending 23% of their day on email, what assessment have the Government made of how the increasing reliance on email is stalling productivity?
Particularly in the context of the public sector, we have an ongoing efficiency review. Where we find areas in which we can improve efficiency and ensure that everyone becomes more productive, we will obviously look to take those opportunities.
Several hon. Members rose—
There can be a link between productivity and recent trends in the level of employment, so if the hon. Member for Northampton South (David Mackintosh) wishes to come in on Question 17, he is welcome so to do.
18. Thank you, Mr Speaker. What assessment has the Minister made of current employment in Northampton? 
At 84.4%, the employment rate in Northampton South is the 17th highest of all 632 constituencies across Great Britain. There were 3,000 more people in work in Northampton South over the past year alone, and 4,000 more than in 2010.
T2. The House may be aware that Plymouth Argyle were also promoted yesterday.I am the chairman of the all-party group on south-west rail. Last November, the peninsula rail taskforce published a report on the future of rail in the south-west. One key recommendation was for a resilient railway line through Dawlish. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that there is enough money in the kitty to deliver that? 
Improved rail resilience in the south-west is a priority, which is why we committed £5 million in Budget 2016 and £10 million in autumn statement 2016 to support that work. The Government will continue to work with Network Rail to develop options for future investment in the south-west in Network Rail’s control period 6.
Following the football theme of this afternoon, I am sure that everyone would wish to know that Cleethorpes Town has finished as champion of the Northern Counties East League, which means that even more people will want to travel to Cleethorpes. Infrastructure development was mentioned earlier. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance that all roads will lead to Cleethorpes?
I will take that as a representation for all those many fans wanting to go to Cleethorpes to watch football.