Report reveals repairs shortfall

Local authorities are spending only a third of what is needed to maintain school premises in England and Wales, according to an independent survey. A report by the Society of Chief Architects of Local Authorities reveals a dramatic shortfall in money spent on all council buildings over the past three years.

The problem is most severe in the education, social services, fire and library services, the Building Maintenance Survey found.

The report coincides with National Education Week, a wide-ranging campaign against cuts in education which has united pressure groups and teacher unions.

An increasing need for repairs to crumbling school buildings, especially those built in the Sixties and Seventies, is set against budgets which are not keeping pace with inflation. Councils are often responding to emergency repairs as the level of preventive maintenance falls, the report found.

The survey examined the gap between spending patterns and estimated need between 1977 and 1997 in 70 local authorities. Lawrence Cooper, the building and maintenance representative on SCALA's technical committee, said if the trend continues buildings will be unmanageable in some authorities in 10 years' time. He estimated that the average authority is spending only a third of what is needed on maintaining schools.

According to the survey, Nottinghamshire needed to spend an estimated Pounds 34 million on school buildings maintenance from a budget of Pounds 10m this year, Derbyshire needed to spend Pounds 46m but had a budget of Pounds 9m and the London Borough of Enfield needed to spend Pounds 11.8m but had a budget of Pounds 3.7m.

Stamford Hill primary school in Haringey, North London, has been waiting since last May for repairs to a ceiling in which a 20ft-wide section has collapsed. Problems at the 300-pupil primary were highlighted by FACE (Fight Against Cuts in Education), which organised National Education Week to draw attention to problems in education funding, crumbling buildings, nursery education, class sizes and special educational needs.

The Local Authorities Association has estimated that Pounds 3.2 billion needs to be spent over the next five years to keep existing school buildings open.

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