School Building Programme

– in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 15 November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills 2:59, 15 November 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is their response to the recent figures released by the Construction Products Association which suggest that the number of schools built or renewed over the three years to the end of 2004 fell short of projections.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, for the three years to 2004, the Government funded the construction of 374 new or replacement schools through PFI; 91 new or replacement voluntary-aided schools; and substantial renovation funding for 490 schools through the schools targeted capital fund. In addition, £5 billion of schools capital funding was allocated locally by local authorities and schools. We therefore believe that the target of 650 new or refurbished schools was met or exceeded.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer. Is he aware of the comments made by Sir Digby Jones, the director-general of the CBI, that the Government have failed to meet too many of their own targets, failed to monitor progress, and failed to demonstrate whether the billions spent have been good value investments? Will the Government therefore be transparent about the progress of the Building Schools for the Future programme and commission an up-to-date assessment of the reasons for any backlog that might exist in the school buildings and repairs programme and whether the whole programme is actually value for money?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, no school has yet been built under the Building Schools for the Future programme but I will bear in mind the noble Baroness's remarks. So far as the backlog is concerned, as she will know, every local authority in the country has a responsibility for conducting an asset management plan in respect of all the schools in its area, which they take very seriously indeed. It is on the basis of those asset management plans that all the Building Schools for the Future projections and plans are being taken forward.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, do the new and the refurbished schools include sprinkler systems against fire? We have been told in this House that it would be practical to put them in at this stage, whereas it would be too expensive to put them into existing buildings. All the fire authorities believe that it would be beneficial.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, the schools do meet the requisite fire regulations, but I cannot tell the noble Baroness precisely the position in respect of sprinkler systems.

Photo of Lord Dearing Lord Dearing Crossbench

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there might be an advantage for schools that have playing fields to enter into partnership with the private sector, thus reducing the need for capital? The school leases playing areas to a private sector firm that inputs the capital to bring those facilities up to the latest modern standards, making the facilities available to the school during school hours and to the community on a commercial basis at other times.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point. Many such partnerships are in progress already, including many highly innovative local authorities that have developed programmes for their schools. I am sure that such good practice could be much more widely copied.

Photo of Baroness Sharp of Guildford Baroness Sharp of Guildford Spokesperson in the Lords, Education & Skills

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the recent report from the Building Services Association and KPMG, which suggests that a quarter of PFI schemes were unprofitable, that 61 per cent of the firms participating in them have been hit by financial penalties and that 64 per cent are contemplating raising their prices in the future? Does that not make the Government's plans under Building Schools for the Future somewhat ambitious?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, we do not believe so. It shows that we have effective risk-sharing arrangements with the private sector.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, how many of the schools in the scheme that the Minister has just told us about have been built without kitchens for cooking food for children in the same building rather than just heating it up?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, all the schools in question must be built to the Building Bulletin standard 98 for schools, which lays down stringent standards in respect of kitchens.

Photo of Baroness Buscombe Baroness Buscombe Spokespersons In the Lords, Education, Shadow Minister (Education)

My Lords, what measures are in place to ensure that capital resources are allocated to urgent improvement needs?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, a whole set of arrangements is in place. The targeted capital fund for schools targets funding specifically on the most urgent and needy cases. Similarly, the phasing of the Building Schools for the Future programme is related specifically to need and deprivation, so we have a robust system of prioritisation in place.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, does the Minister share my concern about the time involved for headteachers when they are working with partners on a PFI scheme for a new school? What will the Government do to ensure that the headteachers' role of leading a school will not suffer when they have to spend so much time on a scheme such as this?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, it is precisely to meet those concerns that we have developed the Building Schools for the Future programme, with Partnerships for Schools as a dedicated organisation that can work closely with local authorities to expedite arrangements with schools and give schools much better professional help in developing their capital strategies.

Photo of Lord Tebbit Lord Tebbit Conservative

My Lords, did the Minister notice that he did not answer the question put to him by my noble friend? He did not ask whether the schools complied with the regulations; he asked how many of them lack kitchens where food can be prepared on the premises for the children. Will the noble Lord answer that question?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I understand that the regulations do provide for that, but I will confirm that in writing for the noble Lord.