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£6 million in 'unplanned spending' to go on school buildings survey

A government agency will be forced to spend an extra £6 million to check the condition of England's school buildings after it missed its original deadline, according to a funding watchdog.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that it will cost the Education Funding Agency (EFA) millions of pounds in “unplanned spending” to survey around 8,000 schools, which could divert money from other projects.

The agency is responsible for ensuring school funding agreements are in place and providing funding to school and colleges, as well as overseeing the maintenance and construction of buildings.

In 2012 the government handed the EFA responsibility for the Property Data Survey Programme, which aimed to collect data on the condition of around 23,000 schools by last October.

The findings were to be used to help make decisions on which schools should be refurbished or rebuilt, after the coalition decided to scrap the £55 billion Building Schools for the Future programme.

To complete the programme, the EFA commissioned surveys of just over half (57 per cent) of schools and relied on local council data for the rest.

But a month before the programme was due to be completed, the EFA identified “inconsistencies in the data supplied by local authorities” and, as a result, education secretary Michael Gove announced in November that the Department for Education (DfE) was commissioning surveys of the 8,000 schools that were meant to be covered by the council information.

“This will cost the agency £6 million in unplanned spending, potentially diverting resources from other projects,” the NAO report found.

“The delay in collection means that the data will not be available as planned to inform capital maintenance funding allocations in December 2014.

“This suggests that the agency may have been over-optimistic in its planning assumptions around the consistency of local authority data.”

The NAO's report also says that the DfE had clear reasons for setting up the agency in 2012, but adds that it is not clear how the department assesses the EFA's ability and capacity to take on new responsibilities.

The agency has forecast that the numbers of schools and colleges that it deals with will rise by 50 per cent to almost 12,000 between 2012/13 and 2015/16. At the same time it is reducing its administration costs.

Margaret Hodge (pictured), chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee and Labour MP for Barking, said: “I fail to see how the agency can reduce costs by 15 per cent whilst simultaneously expecting to see a 50 per cent increase in demand for its services.

"There is a real danger that the Agency will simply become overloaded, putting at risk the value for money it achieves from its £51 billion of funding.”

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