Building on shaky maths

7th February 2003 at 00:00
The intentions are sound but ministerial spin has added up the same sums twice. David Henderson reports.

PUBLIC cash for school refurbishment will rise significantly over the next few years - but by half the pound;110 million ministers trumpeted this week at the launch of their outline school estates strategy at Lochend Community School in Glasgow.

Cathy Jamieson, Education Minister, pledged an extra pound;110 million between 2003 and 2006, tripling the levels of annual funding, but more careful scrutiny reveals that base figures for local authorities are much less.

Published figures show that this year's non-public private partnership (PPP) cash for school improvement is pound;26.7 million. That will rise to pound;36.7 million in the financial year 2003-2004 and then leap to pound;76.7 million in 2004-2005. The following year there will be no increase beyond the substantial rise over the previous two years.

Using the favoured cumulative accounting approach, the Scottish Executive records this as an extra pound;110 million over three years by toting up the increases over this year's base figure. It reaches its sum by adding the pound;10 million increase next year to what it calls a pound;50 million increase the year after and then counts it again the following year, although there is no year-on-year increase by 2006.

A more transparent way of calculating the increase is to label the investment as a pound;50 million rise over two years - pound;10 million in the first and pound;40 million in the second, which is still a significant development in its own right.

The joint Executive and Convention of Scottish Local Authorities scheme for a national rebuilding programme was reinforced by the further tranche of direct government funding in an attempt to underline that the PPP initiative is not the only game in town.

Individual councils now know their allocation for the next three years.

They will, in addition, pump in more cash from their own funds, up to pound;100 million across the country on repairs and maintenance. Councils can also build new schools using conventional borrowing consent - up to pound;150 million a year.

But PPP schemes, running currently to pound;1.6 billion worth of existing and future projects, dwarf more traditional approaches to repairs, maintenance and refurbishment.

Ministers accept their new overarching strategy, Building our future: Scotland's school estate, will take at least 10-15 years to bring schools up to standard, although they are "on track" to deliver 300 new or substantially refurbished schools by 2006.

"Good design," they insist, "will be the key to turning our aspirations for the school estate into reality." Plans, which have to be drawn up by the end of the year, must involve pupils, teachers and staff.

Leader, page 22

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