Total central Government support for capital and repair work at schools in 1994–95 is more than £600 million. Local education authorities can and do add to that substantial sum. In 1992–93—the latest year for which figures are available—LEAs spent an additional £550 million on school repairs and maintenance and a further estimated £140 million on capital works. Subject to the outcome of current public expenditure survey discussions, Government support is planned to rise in 1995–1996 and 1996–97.
Is the Minister aware that a great number of schools throughout the country are in a disgraceful state of disrepair, largely because local authorities do not have the money to add to central grants to put their schools in a fit state to receive our children? Will the Minister consider that matter and especially the cost of repairs caused by vandalism, which is causing chaos in Leicester schools? One school may have to close because the LEA cannot meet the cost of repairing it.
The last detailed study by the National Audit Office in 1991 described many schools as being in a better or acceptable state of decoration and repair and stated that schools were safe places in which to learn and work. I concede that many schools require repairs, which is why so much money is allocated by the Department to LEAs. They have the discretion that I mentioned in my original reply, and I expect them to be sensitive to the kind of problem that the hon. and learned Gentleman has raised with me on a number of occasions.
LEAs determine their own priorities, and even schools determine their priorities under local management of schools and budget allocations. They are often able to take their own steps. I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman accepts that that is a better way of dealing with the issue than the Government's determining from the centre the priorities of 24,000 schools.
Will my hon. Friend consider including under the rubric of school repairs the equally important task of upgrading facilities that are much in demand? Will he consider with his officials the reasonable capital bid by Wallington county grammar school for boys for a new integrated science block, which would help that school maintain its high standard of science studies?
I should have been surprised if the question had not prompted just the sort of reasonable request that my hon. Friend made. I undertake closely to examine the case that he has raised. I am delighted that many schools that my colleagues and I visit have work in train and are doing precisely as my hon. Friend says—building new facilities and providing new equipment. I welcome that—as, I am sure, does my hon. Friend
Does the Minister agree that, with so many pupils being educated in a substandard educational environment, and even if the Government come up with a decent capital programme, LEAs should be at liberty to borrow freely against their entire asset bases to guarantee a decent school environment for every child?
That is all very well, but the hon. Gentleman should consider the extent to which some authorities—I will not name them on this occasion—frittered away on other things money that was supposed to be spent on education. We need a lot more persuading that they can be trusted to do as the hon. Gentleman says before we go down that route.