£15bn needed to make schools safe

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New research by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) shows that £15bn is needed over the next four years to ensure structurally sound classrooms.

The research is part of the LGA's submission to the government's review of spending, following the Department for Education announcement that it will set out plans for capital spending on schools after the comprehensive spending review on 20 October.

According to the LGA and the ADCS, a minimum investment of  £15bn will be needed in the period leading up to 2015 to ensure that every child can be taught in a classroom which is safe and structurally sound.

Forty percent of councils responded to the survey, and “grossed up” responses suggested that up to £7.7 billion of capital spending on schools was desirable in 2011-12, with broadly comparable figures for the next two years and some £6.4 billion in 2014-15, adding up to a total of £29.3 billion over the whole period.

The LGA’s detailed figures suggested that £4.7 billion of the 2011-12 funding was considered to be essential, with progressively smaller amounts over the following three years.

ADCS president, Marion Davis, said the survey had highlighted an urgent need for investment in school buildings to keep up with demand for places and keep children safe.

“The survey also shows the vital role of the local authority in providing a strategic overview of the demand and supply of school places in the local area,” she said.

“The significant local and regional variation in population trends means that the local authority is best placed to identify need, distribute capital funds to schools and support schools in getting the best value from new buildings and repairs.

“Building schools not only promotes learning and improved attainment for young people, but also stimulates the local economy through the construction industry and other businesses – at a time when many local economies need all the help that they can get, funding for school buildings must be made available again as soon as possible.”

Baroness Margaret Eaton, Chairman of the LGA, said: “Our children need schools which are safe, clean and attractive places in which they can learn,” she said.

“Spending money to maintain or replace existing school buildings is unavoidable.

“Areas experiencing booming birth rates need to be able to expand primary schools so that every child has a place not too far from their home.

“Education Secretary Michael Gove has stressed his commitment to getting more crucial core funding directly to schools, via councils, but reducing behind the scenes bureaucracy will only go so far.

“Local government is asking for freedoms which will make the country’s money go further.

“The common sense flexibility we’re requesting will mean councils all over the country can build new schools and improve neighbourhood facilities that residents use every day.”

Around 700 planned building projects were put on hold when the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) scheme was halted in July, partly as a result of critics saying it was overly bureaucratic and poor value for money. The initial budget of £45bn for BSF was later revised upwards to £55bn.

The LGA has estimated that £203m has been spent by councils on BSF projects which were cancelled.

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We're clear that all future capital investment needs to go where it is needed most. Ministers want to target schools in most disrepair far better and deal with the urgent demand for primary school places - a problem we cannot afford to ignore.

"All future investment must be "realistic and affordable, offer far greater value-for-money, and have far less red tape and bureaucracy".

In addition to its review of capital spending on schools, the Department for Education has also launched a review into school buildings, chaired by Sebastian James of the Dixons group.