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Cullen beats the vandals

DAMAGE to schools from fire and vandalism has been cut by a third after councils invested heavily on safety in and around buildings, according to Audit Scotland, the public spending watchdog.

Some pound;44 million has been spent in the past three years making schools safer following Lord Cullen's inquiry into the Dunblane shootings. The Scottish Executive has pumped in pound;30 million to help meet the costs of the recommendations.

It now appears that schools have cut the bill for fire and vandalism from pound;12 million six years ago to pound;8.3 million. But despite improvements such as closed circuit television and better lighting, the majority of authorities still suffer more than pound;1,000 worth of damage per school each year, Audit Scotland reports.

The spending watchdog warns that vandalism incurs extra costs, lowers morale and loses teaching time.

Three councils - Aberdeenshire, Fife and North Ayrshire - are criticised for lack of action. But Dundee, Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire and South Lanarkshire are praised for their measures.

Kay Morrison, vice chair of education in Fife, admitted there was more to be done, despite recent investments of more than pound;2 million in security. Some 300 cameras are now operating in schools. "We still face a significant annual bill as a result of mindless vandalism and this is not acceptable," she said.

However, the watchdog admits there may be no overall savings to the community by making schools safer as vandalism simply moves elsewhere.

"Vandalism levels are affected by many factors, some of which are outwith the direct control of the council; for example, displacement of vandalism activity from other areas on to school buildings, and local social and cultural factors," it states.

A Safer Place: revisited - a review of progress in property risk management in schools reports that most costs arise from numerous small incidents, particularly involving broken windows. Fires have hit 16 schools in the past three years causing more than pound;8 million worth of damage.

Property crime is the more serious with 70 per cent of total costs stemming from nine authorities.

Only 15 per cent of headteachers surveyed say vandalism is worse than it was three years ago.

SAFER IS CHEAPER

A primary in a Dundee housing scheme, where windows are regularly broken by vandals, has installed polycarbonate glass and is on course to recoup its pound;10,000 investment within a year. Eleven incidents since cost just pound;1,302 to repair. The average bill at four similar schools without the reinforced glass is pound;6,750. They also are subject to more attacks.

* A Highland primary in 1997 reported 123 incidents of vandalism, nine of theft and 15 break-ins. New gates, fencing, door entry, locks, CCTV, panic buttons and security marking cut the total this year to just four incidents.

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