Repairs deadline 'no longer viable'

7th July 2006 at 01:00
Maintenance backlog at schools tops pound;60 million. Nicola Porter reports

The official cost of repairing Wales's crumbling classrooms has been put at a staggering pound;620.6 million. And a 2010 target of making all school buildings "fit for purpose" is no longer realistic, the Assembly government conceded this week.

The money spent on school repairs and maintenance backlogs would need to double to meet the 2010 target, according to Peter Black, Lib Dem chair of the Assembly's education committee.

In all, a total of pound;574m has been earmarked for school capital building programmes up to 2010, almost pound;50m short of the new figure.

Jane Davidson, minister for education, lifelong learning and skills, said a "range of unforseen factors" would make the government goal difficult to achieve - including asbestos-riddled buildings and the introduction of the new play-based foundation stage, which requires more indoor and outdoor space.

It also hinges on school reorganisation plans, currently being worked out by many local authorities in response to falling pupil numbers and more surplus places.

Speaking at this week's education, lifelong learning and skills committee, Ms Davidson said: "It looks as if the target will go beyond 2010. But we will do all we can to avoid the dire state of school buildings seen in 1999."

The bill, for repairs to existing buildings, does not include voluntary-aided or new schools. Swansea has the highest maintenance bill at pound;80m. Other authorities facing huge costs are rural Powys (pound;60m), and the two biggest LEAs in Wales, Rhondda Cynon Taf (pound;53m) and Cardiff (pound;45.5m).

The backlog stands at only pound;1.5m in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales's smallest LEA. A survey this spring of local authorities by TES Cymru (April 21) revealed that at least half expected the 2010 ministerial goal to be missed. The Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said the government was simply not providing enough cash, with many local authorities "going in the red" to meet demand for repairs.

In a report published earlier this year, the WLGA claimed every school in England received pound;100,000 more than Wales for spending on buildings.

But Ms Davidson said a "forensic investigation" of individual local authorities that had failed to plan effectively would take place.

Peter Black, Lib Dem education spokersperson, said: "Without more money we face another decade of children being taught in damp and draughty classrooms, teachers struggling to cope with unsafe playgrounds, outside toilets, dry rot, falling masonry and varying classroom temperatures."

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