Cost of Oil in Schools

Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 am on 17th June 2008.

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Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:30 am, 17th June 2008

1. asked the Minister of Education to outline her proposals for managing the cost of oil in schools; and what additional resources will be made available for capital and revenue costs relating to energy and energy efficiencies.      (AQO 3964/08)

Photo of Claire McGill Claire McGill Sinn Féin

16. asked the Minister of Education what action she is taking to assist schools with the rising cost of heating fuels.   (AQO 4034/08)

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

Mr Deputy Speaker, with your permission, I shall answer questions 1 and 16 together.

Tá freagracht ar gach eagraíocht brú airgeadais a bhainistíocht i gcoinne tosaíochtaí iomaíocha taobh istigh de na hacmhainní a thugtar dóibh. Ach is eol dom go raibh ardú suntasach ann i gcostas téite, go háirithe i gcostas ola.

It is the responsibility of all organisations to manage financial pressures against competing priorities within the resources allocated to them. However, we all recognise that there have been significant increases in the cost of heating, particularly in oil. Under the common funding formula arrangements for delegated budgets, all schools receive a budget to meet all their associated running costs, including staffing and non-staffing costs.

I have recognised that there has been a significant increase in fuel costs in recent months, and I have registered a significant bid for additional resources to meet those costs in the course of the formal monitoring round that is under way. No additional capital resources have been made available for energy efficiencies in my Department’s budget. However, the Department of Finance and Personnel administers the central energy efficiency fund (CEEF), the aim of which is to improve energy efficiency in public sector buildings through provision of capital funding. In 2008-09, the education sector has been allocated £844,000 in capital funding from a total central energy efficiency fund budget of £2 million.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

The Minister will know that, in the distant past, children in Ireland brought a piece of turf to school to fight back the cold. God grant that we never return to that again. Does the Minister agree that there is an opportunity to rid every school in Northern Ireland of those draughty and leaky old huts that must be adding to the cost of heating?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

I remember bringing a couple of bits of turf to school — turf that we cut ourselves. I agree with the Member: none of our schools should be draughty. One of the reasons that we are putting significant investment into our schools is to ensure that our children are being educated in high quality schools that are fit for purpose. I agree that it is important; but equally, there are other issues that we must examine, such as provision — given the increased fuel costs — and climate change.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

Last week, the Minister told the ‘Belfast Telegraph’ that in general terms, people already knew what the criteria for post-primary transfer would be. On my first day in the Chamber as Chairperson of the Committee for Education, may I say that the Minister can bay at the moon and howl at the wind, but she will not get agreement until she faces up to the political reality of academic criteria.

Photo of David McClarty David McClarty UUP

Order. The question is purely about the heating of school premises. I ask the Member to stick to the substance of the question.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

I thought that I was going to raise the temperature in the Chamber at no additional cost to the taxpayer. On the matter of the Minister’s financial management — and following on from the question about heating oil — how can anyone have confidence in her to manage properly the cheque book, let alone the Department’s finances, given her record to date in bankrolling Irish-language schools, the wasting of £500,000 in my constituency on the amalgamation of two schools, the cutting of funding for the extended schools programme and the wasting of money in her attempts to avoid the legal position over post-primary transfer?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

First, I respectfully suggest that the next time the new Cathaoirleach — the new Chairperson — speaks at Question Time, he should read the relevant question and stick to it. Secondly, I welcome the fact that, true to form, Mr Storey has mentioned Irish-language schools in his first outing as Cathaoirleach. He will be glad to know that I have just come from the launch of two new schools in Fermanagh — Bunscoil an Traoine and Naíscoil an Traoine.. On behalf of the House, I welcome those schools and the new work that they have to do; they are tremendous schools.

We are not wasting money on Irish-language schools. We are treating children in the Irish-medium sector in the same way that we treat children learning through the medium of English.

People are getting tired of listening to the rant against the Irish-medium sector.

With regard to extended schools funding being cut, I will meet the Committee later — I look forward to meeting the Member as Chairperson — Cathaoirleach — of the Committee — and we can talk about trying to reinstate extended schools funding, if he wishes. The Member will know that I wrote to his party leader many times about extended schools funding, because it is one of the most important and successful programmes in the North of Ireland. I managed to mainstream £16 million of funding, but, unfortunately, that is not the entire amount required. I look forward to the Member’s support, as Cathaoirleach, for getting money for the extended schools programme.

Photo of Ken Robinson Ken Robinson UUP

Perhaps someone will light a turf burner behind the Members who sit at this end of the Chamber, because it is extremely draughty.

How will the Department encourage school authorities to make maximum use of renewable energy resources, such as wind and solar power, and the biomass initiatives that are currently in use in many rural schools? Will the Minister undertake to move the balance of energy supply in those schools to sustainable energy?

Photo of Caitriona Ruane Caitriona Ruane Sinn Féin

That is a very good question. Sustainable construction is about building and refurbishment projects that promote environmental, social and economic gains now and for the future. Designers of new schools are encouraged to produce innovative designs that will conserve energy, water and natural resources.

My Department’s building branch issues essential guidance on sustainability to all education providers in the North of Ireland in the form of technical notes published by the Central Procurement Directorate. Those notes cover topics, such as: general roles and responsibilities in relation to sustainable construction; targets for recycling; proper disposal of construction, demolition and excavation waste in public procurement contracts; and the reuse and recycling of bulk materials in construction in order to reduce consumption of natural resources, energy, transport costs and waste going to landfill.

All school projects that receive capital funding from the Department are expected to comply with the requirements that are detailed in the technical notes. Building branch has also written to all school authorities that have capital projects in planning, informing them of the requirements of the Achieving Excellence in Construction initiative for the North of Ireland, particularly the ‘Achieving Sustainability in Construction Procurement’ action plan. Building branch also stresses the importance of all projects’ compliance with those guidelines, in particular the Building Research Establishment environmental assessment method, which is used to assess the environmental performance of new and existing buildings.

In addition, projects funded in the education sector through the central energy efficiency fund, which is administered by the Department of Finance and Personnel, complement the need for the overall schools capital programme to take account of energy efficiency and renewable technologies in school buildings.

Several newbuild schools have renewable energy sources. For example, the design of Cavehill Primary School in Belfast has resulted in low projected energy consumption and high thermal efficiency; it maximises the use of natural light; it employs natural ventilation; and it minimises water consumption by means of a rainwater harvesting system. That school also has several photovoltaic solar cells and a wind turbine, which provide a relatively steady supply of renewable energy throughout the year. Enniskillen Integrated Primary School has been provided with a geothermal heating system, and Mount Lourdes Grammar School in Enniskillen and Victoria Primary School are operating biomass boilers to provide heating.

Increased costs of fuels such as oil put a premium on energy efficiencies. I ask all sectors to recognise that reality. Furthermore, all Departments must work together to deal with that important issue and also sustainable energy. I look forward to working with the new Minister of the Environment in developing renewable energy and sustainable development. I welcome his thoughts on all those matters.