Music Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons am 6:15 pm ar 19 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Ceidwadwyr, Northampton North 6:15, 19 Mawrth 2024

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, because he is absolutely right. There are 1,000 children involved in NMPAT’s award-winning music and drama groups alone, and NMPAT is the biggest provider of music lessons in Northamptonshire, which includes his constituency. NMPAT currently teaches 15,000 children on a range of musical instruments and in a variety of musical styles in schools, through whole-class and individual lessons. It has 11 Saturday music and performing arts centres and three contemporary centres at venues across the county. The centres are open to everybody and they exist to provide an educational and fun environment for any person interested in the arts.

NMPAT has also had overwhelming success in the Music for Youth national festival, by regularly having groups featured in the top Royal Albert Hall Music for Youth Proms, and we are very proud of them. Annual orchestra tours to Europe are also organised. Later this year, the County Youth Orchestra in Northamptonshire and the County Youth Choir will be travelling to Zaragoza in Spain for a series of concerts. As my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone has pointed out, NMPAT interacts with 52,000 children every year, and that is just Northamptonshire and Rutland.

It is important to emphasise the reach and impact that NMPAT has in order to display just how important its services are. One of my own staff members here in Parliament, Callum Dineen, was a student in NMPAT for five years and has told me of the overwhelmingly positive effect that the organisation has had on his life. Through the opportunities it provides, NMPAT helps children to find the match that lights a creative fuse, and that cannot be underestimated. This fuse often burns throughout adolescence and into adulthood, igniting a love for the arts, which not only enriches those in our country now, but is passed on to future generations.

Hard work, an eye for detail and a drive to succeed are values taught at NMPAT, which translate into all other areas of life. Social skills and opportunities to make new friends through music are provided to children who might otherwise feel left out in school settings. It is for all of those reasons that I was so concerned when the chief executive of NMPAT, Peter Smalley, contacted me with his grave concerns about the future of his organisation, and he is watching this debate today.

NMPAT, as the music hub lead, has a turnover of £4.5 million. That includes £1.13 million of core hub grant from Government. Payments for services from parents and schools make up the majority of the remaining turnover. But, in the two years since the pandemic, NMPAT has used substantial amounts of its reserves to rebuild, regrow, and restimulate activity across the two counties, to achieve levels of engagement and activity close to pre-pandemic levels. This was clearly only ever going to be a short-term option, and I am sorry to say that these reserves have now been exhausted.

In addition to the current funding challenge posed by the pandemic and the frozen national music grant, the organisation is now gravely concerned about the effect of losing a grant that covers increased employer contributions for the teachers’ pension scheme, and that is the thrust of what I wish to raise today. That scheme was introduced in 2019, in common with other independent music services. This grant was worth £210,000 per annum to NMPAT, but it finishes in August of this year.

I am aware of a letter that my right hon. Friend the Schools Minister sent in response to correspondence sent jointly by the Independent Society of Musicians, the Musicians’ Union and Music Mark in December last year, which addressed their concerns about this issue. The Minister acknowledged that

“incumbent and potential new Hub Lead Organisations have had over 12 months’ notice of this intention so that this can be carefully planned for well in advance.”

I accept that, and although this notice period was welcome, it has now been made redundant, I am sorry to say, by an additional announcement of the 5 percentage point increase to employer contributions, which begins in April—imminently. Although some support towards these costs has been intimated until September, the ISM, the Musicians’ Union and Music Mark rightly say that hub lead organisations have had “no way of planning” for this additional change.

Interestingly, these further additional costs will be fully funded for mainstream schools and further education. Local authority music services that employ teachers will also receive support. However, NMPAT and other music hubs across the country are currently due to receive no assistance. This adds an additional annual cost of £240,000 to NMPAT’s budget. For NMPAT, the resultant total annual cost of employer contributions for the teachers’ pension scheme alone will be £1.15 million, which will be greater than its national music grant of £1.13 million. It is axiomatic that other aspects of NMPAT services will suffer severely if its national music grant is swallowed entirely by the new pension contributions, as is likely if nothing is done.

As a result, Peter Smalley and others have been forced to begin consultation with staff to take them out of the teachers’ pension scheme and offer an alternative workplace pension.