BSF might be a cut too far for electorate

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Education secretary, Michael Gove, has apologised for promising scores of schools new buildings under Labour's school building programme, only to admit he had made a mistake, effectively suspending building projects for 715 schools.

There were 25 errors in a Department for Education (DfE) list, which included Schools in Sandwell, in the West Midlands, as well as schools in Derby, Northamptonshire, Peterborough, Doncaster, Greenwich, Staffordshire, Wiltshire, Lancashire and Bexley.

Teachers and pupils at Perryfields High school in Sandwell, who had spent four years working on their rebuilding plans, were ecstatic when they checked the initial list. But then the school discovered that its entire rebuilding plans had been cancelled, leaving everyone frustrated and angry because of the way the mistake was made.

Steve Eling, deputy leader of Sandwell council, said the errors were "bizarre and disgraceful". Schools' hopes had been "stolen from under our noses," he said.

The education secretary has confirmed that the £55bn, 20-year Building Schools for the Future programme would be cancelled altogether. Some 706 new school buildings and services that already have contracts signed will still go ahead, however.

He said the financial situation meant he has had to prioritise funding to try to reduce the £155bn budget deficit. He told the Commons that the BSF programme had been hit by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy, which meant some councils were years behind schedule on their building projects.

Ed Balls, the shadow schools secretary, responded by saying: "It is a damning indictment of this new Tory/Liberal coalition's priorities and a shameful statement from this new secretary of state."

Norman Smith, Chief political correspondent for the BBC, said: "For Michael Gove the row over school buildings has the potential to develop into a major political horror story.

"There is also the possibility of legal action by companies and local authorities affected and demands for either compensation or a judicial review of his decisions.

"For the first time it appears the Coalition may have over-reached themselves on their cuts agenda. Put simply, people might be won round to curbing benefits or public sector pay and pensions - but it's hard to see any section of the electorate who are going to back scrapping new schools. Schools may just be a cut too far."

The key elements of the overhaul to the Building Schools for the Future programme are:

  • 706 schools will be opened under new arrangements being agreed today, of which nearly 386 schools are projected to be new build; 262 to be remodelled or refurbished; 26 to be ICT-only. The building programme in 32 further schools is yet to be confirmed.
  • 715 schools will no longer be rebuilt or refurbished through BSF of which nearly 180 schools are projected to be new build, over 319 to be remodelled or refurbished and 63 to be ICT-only. The building programme in 153 schools has not yet been confirmed.
  • That 123 academy projects in development which have not reached financial close will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
  • That in 14 cases, prioritised locally as 'sample' projects - the first taken forward in the area - will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis in recognition of local need. Although financial close has not been reached, very significant work has been undertaken to the point of appointing a preferred bidder at 'close of dialogue'.
  • That the Government is launching a comprehensive Review of all capital investment in schools, early years, colleges and sixth forms. Led by Sebastian James, Group Operations Director of DSG international plc, the Review team includes Kevin Grace, Tesco - Director of Property Services, Barry Quirk, Chief Executive of Lewisham, John Hood former Vice-Chancellor of University of Oxford and Sir John Egan, former Chief Executive of Jaguar and BAA.

The full list of schools affected by the cuts can be downloaded here.