Councils protest over shrinking capital

29th December 1995 at 00:00
Mark Whitehead on the latest spending limits for buildings and equipment. Local authority leaders were enraged by the latest capital spending guidelines which showed schools will only be able to spend an average Pounds 435 of new money each on buildings and equipment next year.

The total of just over Pounds 10 million across the country is enough to build two primary schools. The figure has been denounced as hopelessly inadequate and local authorities warned it will mean that schools will continue to decline.

Schools minister Cheryl Gillan announced before Christmas that Pounds 558m will be available to local authorities and governors to spend on buildings and equipment in 1996-97. It is made up of Pounds 458m under annual capital guidelines, an increase of 7.5 per cent on the current year, and Pounds 100m for voluntary-aided and special agreement schools.

But Department for Education and Employment figures show the extra cash amounts to just over Pounds 10m after money for existing commitments, surplus place removal, rising pupil rolls and other ongoing costs has been excluded.

John Fowler, assistant education secretary at the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, said: "The Government has failed to recognise the enormous problems with the infrastructure of schools.

"The total amount is marginally better than last year, but a much greater proportion has been sucked into basic needs because of the rise in population. "

Meanwhile a survey, to be published next week by the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, is expected to show that many schools face a new year of overcrowding in specialist teaching areas. And another survey of the state of school buildings by the AMA and Association of County Councils, also due shortly, will show the backlog of repairs needed to bring schools upto scratch has rocketed. The bill may have doubled to Pounds 4 billion since the last Government survey in 1987.

Initial figures collected by the associations show that Lancashire, alone, needs almost Pounds 80m to bring its schools up to standard. Devon requires at least Pounds 37m and Derbyshire needs Pounds 12m.

The Association of London Government condemned the news as "another devastating blow". It said Croydon's allocation of Pounds 1.2m would not begin to cover the cost of new schools needed to accommodate rising numbers of children, while 30-year-old proposals to rebuild some schools in Barnet will stay on the waiting list.

John Ryan, chair of Bradford's education committee, called for an urgent meeting with ministers to discuss the authority's Pounds 4m allocation. It had bid for Pounds 48.7m for major repairs and new schools."I cannot accept the fact that Bradford should get such a paltry allocation when we have rising school rolls, overcrowding and thousands of children being taught in temporary classrooms," he said.

Making the announcement, Mrs Gillan said authorities would be able to spend extra money from capital receipts and revenue budgets in addition to the annual capital guidelines.

She said local authorities had received considerable resources for school building work in the last few years and next year's cash should enable them "to continue to make significant progress in improving the building stock".

A reserve fund included up to Pounds 40m for a new Challenge Fund for "innovative capital projects involving contributions from other bodies, including the private sector".

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