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Councils invest in updating schools

Councils in Wales plan to spend more than Pounds 213 million updating schools next year, according to new Assembly government figures.

Despite a dramatic drop in overall capital expenditure in recent years, Wales's 22 local authorities are investing more in school buildings, land and equipment.

Their total capital expenditure - on education, social services, transport, housing and local services - fell from Pounds 1.09 billion in 2007-08 to a forecast Pounds 864m in 2009-10.

In 2007-08, Welsh councils pumped Pounds 189.8m (17 per cent of their total capital spend) into schools. This year's forecast was Pounds 199.1m (21 per cent), and next year's is Pounds 213.6m (almost a quarter).

But while some councils are planning to invest up to half of their total capital budget in schools, others are putting in less than a tenth.

In percentage terms, Torfaen council is the top spender, planning to invest 53 per cent of its 2009-10 capital expenditure on education, while Merthyr Tydfil plans to invest just 9.5 per cent. The differences reflect each council's progress on school reorganisation plans.

David Reynolds, professor of education at the University of Plymouth, said: "If local authorities are investing more of their capital in education, then all credit to them."

Later this year, figures will show how much councils invested in schools last year and whether this was affected by the recession.

English councils consistently spend between 2 and 3 per cent more on schools than those in Wales.

Other new figures this week show that Welsh councils plan to increase their education revenue budgets - the cost of running schools - by 3.4 per cent next year, to Pounds 2.48bn.

Meanwhile, Steve Thomas, chief executive of the Welsh Local Government Association, warned that councils will face "radical choices" over the next few years, with the government likely to cut funding by tens of millions of pounds.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats warned that education could be hit hard, with cash-strapped councils forced to rush through reorganisation plans and cut spending on school buildings.

But the Assembly government said efficiency savings would provide the necessary funding.

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