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Mortgaged to hilt

Huge loans taken out to pay for school building renovations

RATS, LEAKY roofs and crumbling classrooms are a reality in many of Wales's dilapidated schools.

But the full extent of bringing them up to scratch emerged this week after it was revealed that some local authorities are taking out huge mortgage-style loans to tackle worsening conditions.

Carmarthenshire, one of the biggest education spenders in Wales, plans to borrow pound;73 million for its pound;140m schools building programme.

The loan has been taken out over 25 years from the Public Works Loan Board and will go towards the major renovation of 40 primaries and secondaries.

The authority claims it has been forced into the debt.

"We have to do this to get our school buildings fit for the next century,"

Mark James, the county's chief executive, told delegates at a funding conference held at the University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd last week.

But the Assembly government insists that enough funding is given to local authorities to carry out renovations and repairs. Carwyn Jones, education minister, blamed LAs for going into the red, hinting that cash earmarked for renovations is going elsewhere.

"It's important that where education authorities have the money they spend it," he said. "There is pound;560m in the pot for school buildings in Wales but clearly it is not all going where it should."

The Welsh Local Government Association claims every English school had Pounds 100,000 more spent on repairs and maintenance than Wales in 2005, in figures for a major review into school finding.

During evidence, members told the cross-party committee of AMs that cash-strapped local authorities were struggling to foot the bill.

Since then, the Assembly government has dropped a target for making Wales's schools fit for purpose by 2010. But pressure on LAs increased this month after officials sent out a letter asking them to come up with their new individual target dates by the end of July.

The loans rush had been anticipated after officials suggested earlier this year that, to meet the cost, LAs should borrow, rather than resort to private finance initiatives.

Authorities have also been promised extra money from the Schools Building Improvement Grant.

Leader, page 26

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