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Councils need Pounds 3.2 bn for repairs

Local authorities are calling on the Government to provide massive additional funding for repairs and improvements to school buildings after a national report revealed that Pounds 3.2 billion will be needed over the next five years to keep run-down accommodation in use.

Highlighting "an appalling level of neglect for the condition of our schools", the report by the Association of Metropolitan Authorities (AMA) and Association of County Councils (ACC) found that more than 750,000 pupils are taught in temporary classrooms every day. It puts the cost of replacing "inadequate" temporary facilities by the year 2001 at Pounds 700 million.

Figures submitted by 109 councils in England and Wales revealed that children in 600 primary schools still have to rely on outside toilets. Nearly 2, 000 primaries have "inadequate" school hall facilities, making it difficult for them to deliver the PE requirements of the national curriculum, the report found.

John Merry, vice-chair of the AMA, said: "We have had a lot of anecdotal evidence about the terrible state of accommodation, but the sheer scale of the problem which the report reveals still came as a surprise."

The report says the school improvements bill has risen by 60 per cent since 1989, when an Audit Commission study suggested Pounds 2bn would clear the backlog. This increase proves that "deferring expenditure on improvement or renewal work inevitably leads to greater long-term costs".

The associations blame the Government for the neglect of school buildings and want an additional Pounds 640m to be made available to authorities in 1997-98 to cover essential work.

Cllr Merry added: "The problem is not concentrated in particular regions, because the lack of funding from central government has forced councils all over the country to cut back on routine maintenance. Leaking roofs and crumbling window frames are taking their toll on morale in schools and the government has got to take notice."

The report says government borrowing guidelines for capital expenditure have fallen by 22 per cent in four years, from Pounds 75.41 per pupil in 1992-93 to Pounds 58.55 in 1996-97. More significantly, it says, the guidelines covering non-specific capital spending, through which authorities pay for essential work on school accommodation, have fallen by 85 per cent over the same period, from Pounds 25.09 to Pounds 3.48 per pupil.

A Department for Education and Employment spokesperson said: "The responsibility for the upkeep of school buildings lies with school governors and local authorities. Substantial resources have been made available throughout the Nineties to help them to maintain accommodation."

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