Glasgow given an edge in race to rebuild colleges

COLLEGES in the Greater Glasgow area, which account for almost a third of the estimated Scottish backlog of maintenance and repairs, are to be given top priority in the allocation of building funds.

But, making the announcement in a circular, the Scottish Further Education Funding Council insists that other parts of the country will not lose out over pressing capital projects.

The council is none the less adopting a tougher approach to all colleges, ending its current guarantee of 50 per cent support for the capital cost of a project.

It will in future base its support on the maximum amount it considers a college can contribute. "Colleges will be expected to demonstrate their commitment to a high priority project by being prepared to give the project maximum budgetary priority and in making every effort to obtain funding for it from other public and private sources," the circular states.

The council may be prepared to exceed a 50 per cent contribution but only in "exceptional circumstances". It wants the sector to make more use of external sources of finance and will be issuing guidance in November on how colleges should review their use of space.

The circular also signals the council's intention to consider the capital needs of colleges on an area basis before deciding which projects to back. This trend has been evident for some time, from the Glasgow-wide review of FE to the report on demand and supply in Scotland which recommended "area-based estates option reviews".

Area reviews should cover:

* Scope for "rationalisation, remodelling and refurbishment".

* Disposal of surplus buildings.

* Potential for collaboration, particularly in expensive and space-intensive courses such as engi-neering and construction.

* Additional investment to replace outdated facilities.

The council takes a flexible view of the extent to which colleges should rely on private finance. In addition to capital grant, it says it could provide revenue support for building loans or inject capital funds to support the revenue costs of projects built under public private partnerships.

The approach will be to judge each case on its merits. "The objective is to secure solutions which are able to be implemented reasonably quickly on a secure timetable, are affordable for colleges, and the best available value," the circular states.

The priority to be given to Glasgow, covering nearly a quarter of the sector, will be seen as a reward for moves in the city to reduce the number of colleges from 10 to five. Five colleges are already in active merger talks. A single college would replace the three city centre institutions, Central, Building and Printing and Food Technology, with another bringing together Stow and North Glasgow.

The circular says the council has been convinced that "the scale and the depth of capital investment which is required to address very poor quality estates across the Greater Glasgow area remain far greater than any other area in Scotland". But it acknowledges that other areas of Scotland have high priority needs and pledges to be "suitably flexible".

An investigation of the FE estate in 1999, carried out for the funding council by surveyors W S Atkins, found a backlog of essential health and safety and high priority repairs costed at pound;116 million, of which Glasgow's share was pound;41 million. It was estimated that pound;113 million of the total would have to be committed by 2004.

The colleges' own five-year assessment puts the bill at pound;405 million, with pound;88 million of that to be spent in Glasgow. The funding council's capital grant for this academic year is pound;21 million.

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