Cash worries curb building

25th April 2008 at 01:00
Uncertainty over successor to PPPs and Games projects could result in a two-tier school estate
Uncertainty over successor to PPPs and Games projects could result in a two-tier school estate

A combination of Government dithering and one of First Minister Alex Salmond's proudest achievements could halt the school rebuilding programme for years, MSPs have heard. The result could be a "two-tier school estate" of modernised and decrepit buildings.

Audit Scotland and leading local authority officials told the Parliament's education committee last week that the Government must make up its mind quickly how it is going to fund its Scottish Futures Trust, the successor to the public private partnership programme.

Otherwise, said Caroline Gardner, deputy auditor general, ministers risk "losing the pace of change built up over the past nine years or so".

The committee also heard that Mr Salmond's success in helping to bring the 2014 Commonwealth Games to Glasgow, combined with the impact of the London Olympics in 2012, was beginning to push up costs and divert contractors from schools projects.

Lindsay Glasgow, Edinburgh's asset planning manager for education, said building costs were increasing exponentially, in some years by as much as 12 per cent. It was becoming "really difficult to attract interest in projects", she said.

Alistair Farquhar, head of educational resource services at Moray Council, said: "Our property staff have advised us that the influence of the London Olympics on workforce availability will also have an effect on when we can try to build our schools."

Councils have concluded that it will take "significantly longer" than the 20 years predicted by Audit Scotland before the country has a school estate fit for purpose, especially if P1-3 class sizes are to be reduced to 18.

Audit Scotland has admitted its estimate - given in its report Improving the School Estate, published a month ago - depended on the pace of construction to date being maintained, and did not take into account the impact of the new class sizes target.

The agency also called for the school estate strategy, published in 2003, to be updated to take account of the current state of schools across the country. Ms Gardner suggested there should be "concrete plans for a specific date by which we want all schools to be renewed and fit for purpose" and "specific financial planning" for the investment required "council by council and school by school".

Scotland is halfway through its school building programme, with around pound;5 billion spent so far.

Ms Glasgow said that, given the present uncertainty over funding, "it is a given that there will be a period when no new buildings are opened".

She also expressed fears that a "two-tier estate" was developing because of the "significant difference" between old and new schools.

Mr Farquhar said that, in a few years, Moray would have two "all-singing, all-dancing" schools and 52 others "forever trying to catch up".

The two-tier system was the "biggest burden" of the building programme, said Jim Logue, convener of North Lanarkshire's learning and leisure services committee. The difference between old and new schools in the authority was like "chalk and cheese".

A Government spokesman said: "We are matching and funding the previous administration's building programme brick for brick.

"We expect to deliver around 250 new or refurbished schools over the term of this parliament. Since May last year, we have continued with the seven existing non-profit distributing and PPP projects to build 45 new schools, with four further projects in the pipeline."

He also reiterated the Government's view that the Scottish Futures Trust, on which an announcement would be made "in due course", would deliver a better deal for taxpayers than the PPP programme.

Doubts continue, page 6.

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