Schools:  Capital Projects

Ministerial Statements – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 11:15 am on 24th June 2014.

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Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 11:15 am, 24th June 2014

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  A Cheann Comhairle, ba mhaith liom ráiteas a dhéanamh chun an Tionól a thabhairt suas chun dáta ar chlár caipitil na scoileanna agus ar na pleananna breise infheistíochta caipitil atá agam don tréimhse atá romhainn.

I should like to make a statement updating the Assembly on the schools capital programme and my further capital plans for the coming period.  In my statements to the House in the autumn of 2011, June 2012 and January 2013, I set out the challenges faced by a schools estate comprising 1,172 schools of varying sizes, primary and post-primary, across five education sectors.  The estimated capital value of the education estate is substantial at just over £3 billion, and a useful indicator for investment need is the current maintenance backlog across the estate of £286 million.

My Department’s strategy for capital investment into the foreseeable future will remain focused on supporting the development and delivery of a network of viable and sustainable schools, set firmly in the context of 'Schools for the Future: A Policy for Sustainable Schools' and shaped by the outworkings of the area planning process. 

I remain resolute in ensuring that my investment plans will also focus on providing a first-class education experience for the pupils, teachers and, indeed, school communities to ensure that our young people have the type and quality of accommodation required to help them to fulfil their potential.

In developing my investment plans for the schools estate, it is incumbent on me to balance the limited capital resources made available to me against the scale of investment needed across what can only be described as a wide and diverse schools estate.  I am sure that every Member can identify a range of schools, primary and post-primary, that are in dire need of investment in the areas you represent.  While I would love to be in a position to make a statement that promises investment to all schools in need, I must be realistic and also ensure that any school I announce for any form of investment is not only deliverable but sustainable for many years to come. 

In my statement to the House in June 2012, I announced 18 newbuild projects.  One of those projects is complete, seven are on-site, and a further eight projects are expected to move on-site before the end of this financial year.  The remaining two schemes are at an earlier stage in development and are not expected to be on-site until the 2015-16 financial year. 

In January 2013, I announced a further programme of 22 newbuild school projects to advance in planning.  These projects are at a much earlier stage in development, and my officials are actively engaging with relevant school authorities to take the projects forward.  Economic appraisals have been approved for two of these projects, which have moved to design phase, and I anticipate that others will proceed in the same manner in the coming months. 

In February this year, I was pleased to announce 51 projects under the schools enhancement programme.  All these projects have approved economic appraisals, and design teams are now in place for 37 of them, with work ongoing to secure teams for the remaining projects.  An initial tranche of these projects will move on-site by the end of this financial year, and, subject to the availability of capital budget, the remainder will progress to construction during the next two financial years. 

Today's announcement, coupled with the ongoing work within the Department, means that over 100 major and significant enhancement projects are being actively progressed.  That represents an unprecedented level of capital development and renewal across the wider schools estate.

Implementing major works in schools is not my only priority in a given year.  In the last three financial years, I have invested £214 million in much-needed minor capital works across the estate, including window replacement; toilet refurbishment; security works, including CCTV, access control and fencing; replacement of mobiles and new modular accommodation; disabled access, including ramps and special needs adaptations; and fire-risk improvements, including rewiring and fire alarms.  These works have included addressing statutory obligations across the estate, in regard to health and safety and the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA).  They have also dealt with a range of accommodation issues and additional provision.  I have also invested substantially in maintenance works across the estate in recent years, with notable maintenance investment in the last financial year of just short of £53 million.

Turning to the substantive element of my statement to the House today, I wish to set out my capital investment plans for this and the coming financial years.  On major capital investment, I will shortly set out my next list of proposed newbuild schools to be advanced in planning, but I feel that it is important, in the first instance, to set out my rationale for selecting these schools for announcement today.

In December last year, in their capacity as planning authorities, the education and library boards, having consulted with school authorities, forwarded lists of potential newbuild projects for schools in their areas.  In total, 145 newbuild school proposals were submitted, and the overall list included schools from all five education sectors. 

As was the case in my previous announcements in 2012 and 2013, I have agreed a protocol that has been developed to assess the list of projects that were submitted.  The basic underpinning rationale of the protocol is that all projects will be considered in the context of the emerging area plans and confirmed as forming part of the core provision in an area, going forward, including confirmation of the size of the school. 

On that basis, each project on the list submitted by the planning authority was subject to a number of gateway checks to confirm, firstly, that the project has been proposed by the planning authority in consultation with the relevant school authority; secondly, that the school is viable and sustainable, in the context of my policy on sustainable schools and in line with the needs of the area as set out in the emerging area planning process; and, thirdly, confirmation that there are no area planning uncertainties in relation to the proposed project. 

If the answer was no to any of those questions, the project was not considered further and was not scored in the context of the approved protocol.  However, that in no way implies that I will not consider those projects as part of a future announcement.

The next stage involved scoring each of the proposals that made it through the gateway.  The scoring was assessed under three broad categories:  major works that will effect rationalisation proposals; major works to address inadequate or inappropriate accommodation; and social considerations.  The full protocol was placed on the Department’s website this morning, along with a list of the schools that I will shortly set out to the House.  Before I set out the school projects that will advance in planning, several points on the application of the protocol are worthy of note.

With a limited budget, I had to introduce a limit on investment in any given school.  I have therefore included in the protocol a mechanism for supporting investment in our larger schools without having to allocate an overly large percentage of the available budget to those schools immediately.  That has been achieved by seeking to identify smaller discrete projects that have merit in their own right but do not require a rebuild of the entire school.

I am also acutely aware of my statutory duties in respect of integrated and Irish-medium schools.  I have therefore ensured that my protocol recognises those duties and, accordingly, factored them into the sustainability gateway that was applied.  That was achieved by assessing recent enrolment trends to identify where enrolments are increasing and sustainability thresholds are likely to be met in coming years and ensuring that those schools were considered with the other schools that advanced to the scoring phase of the process.

I have also introduced a greater emphasis in the assessment process on schools whose pupils are more greatly impacted by social issues.  The indicators that I have selected in the protocol are aimed at addressing those issues, and they take into account the number of pupils who have special educational needs and the level of free school meals entitlement in a given school.

Several of the schools that were submitted for consideration as major works were also submitted as part of shared campus proposals that involve rebuilding the school.  Those schools will be assessed under the shared campus call for proposals in the first instance.  It is my intention to make an announcement on the shared campus proposals shortly.

In selecting the number of projects to advance in planning, I had to consider several constraints and make various assumptions.  There are constraints on the capital budget and the capacity of the various stakeholders in the process to deliver further projects in parallel with the existing programme of major works.

While different projects will progress at different speeds, given the likely timescales required to complete the economic appraisal, design and procurement processes, significant spend is unlikely before the financial year 2016-17.  Therefore, I had to make assumptions about the level of capital budget likely to be available to my Department in that year and beyond.

This announcement to advance projects in planning does not commit the Department to fund a project within a defined timescale.  In any event, such a commitment would be impossible, given that the Department does not know its capital budget availability beyond March 2015.  That said, the schools announced to advance will have a valid expectation that the construction project will follow within a reasonable time frame.  It is also reasonable for my Department to plan capital projects for future years, given the lead-in time for the delivery of such projects.

Having given due regard to those assumptions and constraints, I can now announce that major works projects will take place at the following primary schools:  Drumlins Integrated Primary School, Ballynahinch; Gaelscoil na gCrann, Omagh; Iveagh Primary School, Rathfriland; Roe Valley Integrated Primary School, Limavady; Scoil an Droichid, Belfast; St Mark’s Primary School and St Luke’s Primary School, Twinbrook; and Woodburn Primary School, Carrickfergus.  There will be a newbuild for the recently amalgamated St Patrick’s Primary School, Belfast.

The Twinbrook primary school project is linked to a wider DSD-led project to invest in Colin town centre.  I place on record my support for that project, which includes plans for a new post-primary school in the area.

The current position is that, while I remain supportive of the project, I am mindful that there are wider area planning issues for the broader west Belfast, Crumlin and Glenavy areas that must be bottomed out before an investment decision on Colin town centre can be considered.  This is a complicated process that must be completed before the size of any proposed new school can be confirmed.

I turn now to post-primary schools.  Those moving ahead for newbuilds are Cullybackey High School; Dunclug High School, Ballymena; Lismore Comprehensive School, Craigavon; and Methodist College, Belfast, which is not a rebuild of the entire school but will cover the refurbishment of A block and the schoolhouse.  There will be a newbuild for the combined Monkstown High School/ Newtownabbey Community High School; St Joseph’s High School, Crossmaglen; and St Killian’s College, Carnlough.

This announcement is not only good news for those schools to be advanced in planning but good news for the economy.  It represents in the order of £170 million of capital investment, which will also be a welcome boost to the construction industry over the coming years as the projects come to fruition.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP 11:30 am, 24th June 2014

I welcome today's announcement, which is mixed with good news, partial news and no news.  Some of it is a case of jam tomorrow.  I particularly want to bring the Minister to one point that he referred to.  In the House yesterday and today, he referred to the 18 projects that he previously announced.  Only one of those is complete, and the rest are at various stages of the planning process.  Given that, is it now time for the Minister to reconsider other procurement options?  Is that in the protocol in regard to the announcement today?

I welcome the announcement of new schools in Cullybackey and in Dunclug in my constituency.  My only caveat is that I am sad that part of the price tag for that is the closure of Ballee in Ballymena.  There is a degree of acceptance and of sorrow that that is the case.  Eleven years after it being announced, there is still no newbuild for Devenish College in Enniskillen.  It is quite clear that the Minister has not yet got the word that a promise was made that has not been delivered on.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for his range of questions.  If you want jam tomorrow, you have to grow fruit today.  These announcements are preparation for and recognition of the lead-in time that is required to make a capital announcement a reality.

In the announcements that I made in June 2012, January 2013 and today, there are learning processes.  The Department of Education is now taking forward what is probably the largest capital programme outside DRD.  Over this time, despite the difficult financial constraints that we are working under, I made the decision that, while we may live in difficult times, we do not live in impossible times.  It is only right and proper that we continue to progress capital announcements and that my officials and the relevant planning authorities work through the required stages to make that a reality.

The Member will be aware that I have often stood in the House and remarked on the red tape that we politicians wrap ourselves in when it comes to spending public money.  The timescales and detail involved in business cases and economic appraisals are, in my humble opinion, restrictive.  They go beyond what is required in protecting public finances and are in danger of delaying — in some cases, stopping — significant investment from the public purse back into the economy.

You said that only one of the 18 projects announced in June is complete.  Several, however, are now on-site, with construction taking place and construction workers gainfully employed in building those schools.  I assure you that the delight on the faces of the principals, boards of governors and pupils is real.

I have continued to refine the protocol that I have announced today because we recognise that, to announce a school and get it on site in reasonable time, there has to be a number of definitive things about the school, such as the pupil intake, its place in area planning, whether there are any outstanding development proposals etc.  We have introduced that into today's protocol to try to advance things.

The Member is aware that I made an announcement about Devenish College, I believe, in January 2013.  It is going through processes towards getting a newbuild.  Devenish College will have a newbuild because of the decisions that I made in January 2013.  Progress is being made on delivering that newbuild, and that newbuild will happen.

Photo of Christopher Hazzard Christopher Hazzard Sinn Féin 11:45 am, 24th June 2014

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I, too, welcome the statement from the Minister.  Indeed, like most Members, I welcome the announcement for specific schools in my constituency, such as Drumlins Integrated Primary School in Ballynahinch and, of course, Iveagh Primary School in Rathfriland.  To what extent is the Minister able to use his capital budget to meet social need and, indeed, help tackle the effects of social deprivation on the learning process?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I also welcome the moving ahead of Drumlins.  It has been delayed for a significant number of years and that has been down to site identity.  That is one of the problems that has caused delays in the past and one of the things that I hope this protocol will iron out moving forward, so that, when a school is announced, it is built within a reasonable period. 

I have made a conscious decision on this occasion to include social clauses in my announcement on newbuilds.  It is only right and proper that, if we have identified and are tackling social disadvantage through our common funding formula, we also enhance provision of facilities for communities that are facing significant levels of social deprivation.  I have included scoring for free school meals entitlement in the protocol and have also included a score for special educational needs, because I believe that those in the greatest need require the greatest intervention from the state, and if we want to see a change in the pattern of social disadvantage in years to come, we have to invest to do so.

Photo of Seán Rogers Seán Rogers Social Democratic and Labour Party

Thanks to the Minister for his statement.  I, too, acknowledge the newbuilds for Drumlins and for Iveagh Primary School.  They are needed.  I also acknowledge the Minister's warning that it is not about funding a project within a particular time.  Can I ask about school enhancement projects?  There are about 51 projects, and they come to somewhere over £100 million.  Given that you do not know what your capital budget will be beyond March 2015, how many projects do you expect to move on in that initial tranche?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

All those projects have been announced to move on to economic appraisal stage, and that stage will identify the next steps involved.  I have announced them on the basis that it is my intention that they all move forward if they pass through economic appraisal stage.  I, as Minister, as is the case with any other Minister — I listened to Mr Farry's contribution during questions on his statement — have to forecast ahead into a time when budgets are not confirmed, but I can safely say that the Department of Education will have a capital budget.  We can either be like a rabbit in the headlights and become stunned by the fact that we do not know exactly what will happen after 2015-16 or we can plan with the intelligence we have to move forward.  I also base my plans on other commentary.  The coalition Government are on record saying that they will invest in capital and that they see capital as one way of restimulating the economy.  If that is the case and those indications continue, I want to make sure that the Department of Education has shovel-ready projects to move forward and to capitalise on any of that funding that comes forward.

Photo of Danny Kinahan Danny Kinahan UUP

I, too, welcome the statement.  I always welcome any capital funding that goes to any schools, and I am particularly happy to see that we will get a shared education announcement shortly.  I have two concerns, other than the obvious one of area planning.  The Minister says that the protocol will take account of the numbers of pupils with special needs, yet every indication from schools is that there are masses of children with special needs who have yet to be assessed.  Do we really know what the numbers are?  Do we have a thorough way of making sure that we know that number so that we are putting the finance there for them? 

Also — this is not quite on the right subject — what about the shortfall of £11 million or £12 million for the library boards that seems to be there for the future?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I can make assessments only on those children on the SEN register, and we are working diligently to ensure that timescales for assessment are reduced.  The Member will be aware that I hope to bring legislation in relation to SEN to the Assembly in this calendar year to improve that situation.

In relation to funding for the education and library boards, the Member will also be aware that I have made a significant bid to the June monitoring round to cover the increased costs that our boards are facing in relation to SEN.

Photo of Trevor Lunn Trevor Lunn Alliance

I also welcome the statement; there is a lot of good news in it.  I refer the Minister to the paragraph where he says that he is aware of his:

"Statutory Duties in respect of Integrated and Irish Medium Schools."

He says that he has factored those duties into the sustainability gateway:

"by assessing recent enrolment trends to identify cases where enrolments are increasing".

Can the Minister clarify how that differs from his assessment of any other type of school?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

We have a sustainable schools policy with enrolment trends contained in it.  You can take a number of readings of that sustainable schools policy.  I am taking a reading of it from the positive element, that the Irish-medium and integrated sectors should be facilitated and promoted, and to do that, at times, you have to provide them with a newbuild.  So it is read in a different way from other sectors; it is read through a more positive prism than perhaps would have been the case in the past.  I continue to review the protocol to reassure myself that it fully reflects our statutory duties.  So the protocol may be open to change in future for that very purpose.

Photo of Jonathan Craig Jonathan Craig DUP

I also welcome the funding announcements; they are good news for those schools that have received them.  As the Minister well knows, I have been championing the cause of Dromore High School.  Thirty-three years ago, when I left that school, it needed a newbuild.  It was a school built for 500 pupils; there are now 940 in it.  We have jumped through major hoops around planning and the identification of a new site.  Will the Minister confirm that, to get one of these "shovel-ready" schools, to use his terminology, he will fund the purchase of the site this year?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Just to confirm:  there is no question that Dromore High School needs a newbuild.  Unfortunately, I do not have the finances available at this time to announce newbuilds for all the schools that I would have liked.  In relation to Dromore High School, I am aware of the work that elected representatives, the school and the SELB have been involved in, in the identification of sites and issues around planning permission.  I understand that the board has prepared a business case for my Department.  That is being scrutinised with the mindset that we wish to purchase the land.  If the business case stacks up, we will move ahead and purchase that land for an announcement at a later stage of a newbuild for Dromore High School.  So, in many ways, the first stage will be crossed — the purchase of the land — then we have to move towards a build.

Photo of Michaela Boyle Michaela Boyle Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I, too, welcome the statement that the Minister has brought to the House.  It goes some way to mention the maintenance backlog.  What is his Department doing to address and prioritise the much-needed maintenance work for schools so that they can operate and open their doors come September, particularly those schools that have been given the green light to amalgamate?  In my area, there are two primary schools of single-gender identity and, if they do not get the funding that they need for their maintenance, they will not function come September.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I thank the Member for the question.  As I said in the opening paragraphs of my statement, we have a significant backlog of maintenance in the schools estate:  somewhere in the region of £250 million, if not more.  Over this last number of years, there has also been significant investment in maintenance projects across the estate.  For instance, last year, we spent over £50 million on maintenance.  That is unprecedented in recent years.  We will spend £17 million this year.  I have also made a bid to the monitoring rounds for maintenance programmes and, in fairness, even to, in previous times, the Executive.  When we made interventions to stimulate the economy, I secured money for maintenance during those programmes.  So I am open to funding maintenance and, in fairness to my Executive colleagues, so are they. 

I suspect that the scenario that the Member paints for me may fall under minor works.  However, if the Member wishes to write to me with details of the case involved, I will look at it more closely to reassure myself that all measures have been taken to progress the amalgamation of those schools.  There is quite a healthy minor works budget available, as well.  In recent years, we have spent significant amounts of public money on minor works improving our schools estate.  However, if the Member writes to me, I will take a look at that case.

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

As the Minister knows, undertakings have been given for a new school at Down High.  A very appropriate site was selected and planning approval given.  It now appears that his Department is trying to point the school in the direction of a site on the Ardglass Road in Downpatrick — a site that he and his officials know is totally inappropriate and inconvenient, would lead to huge traffic congestion and would force 90% of the pupils who attend Down High to travel across Downpatrick to access education.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Apart from all that, can we have a question?

Photo of Jim Wells Jim Wells DUP

Will the Minister accept from me that he has placed a totally unrealistic expectation upon the board of governors of Down High School?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Will the Member accept from me that I have not placed any restrictions on the board of governors of Down High School?  It goes back to one of the points that I raised with Mr Storey.  We as politicians have wrapped ourselves in red tape.  It is very difficult to spend public funds when you are encased in red tape.  The example of Down High School is a very good one.  Down High School requires a newbuild and seeks to have that newbuild on its current site.  However, under the rules for economic appraisal and the spending of public moneys, there is a duty upon my Department and my officials to look at all options in the area to see which is best value for money for the public purse.  You can measure it through that simple prism — which is best value? — and end up with site a, b or c. 

I am also aware that my officials are taking into consideration comments from local elected representatives and the school around the requirement for the school to be built on its current site for a number of the reasons that you have outlined.  I cannot intervene in that process.  Let the economic appraisal process take its course.  The school has made its voice heard on the matter, as have local representatives.  If there is any relevant evidence, such as you have pointed out today, in relation to traffic congestion in the town, then, in my opinion, that has to be taken into account before a final decision is made on the site for Down High School.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire, agus cuirim fáilte roimh an ráiteas seo ar maidin.  I welcome the statement this morning and I am sure that the construction industry will welcome it.  It will be a stimulus to an industry that has been under pressure for a number of years.  Will the Minister tell us what it will mean to the construction industry in finance going into the industry and the number of jobs created?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chomhalta as a cheist.  A recent report carried out by the construction industry suggests that every pound announced for capital investment stimulates a further £2·80 in the economy through stimulus in the construction industry.  My primary objective is to build new schools for our pupils, parents and communities, but I am acutely aware that the announcement will also be welcomed by the construction industry.  There has been a major step up in the number of schools now under construction, which has been welcomed by the construction industry.  I have no doubt that the industry will welcome the fact that we are planning into the future for further builds.  Having spoken to a number of construction workers and developers on the sites, I can assure you that they welcome it.  The construction industry has been through a very lean period, but it now sees a step change, particularly from my Department, in relation to investing in capital programmes.

Photo of Patsy McGlone Patsy McGlone Social Democratic and Labour Party

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire as a ráiteas cuimsitheach.  I thank the Minister for covering a wide range of things there.  Yes, the construction industry does appreciate the investment, but it would like to see a lot more happening a lot quicker in the process.  I pay particular tribute to the enhancement projects and some of the officials, one of whom I see here, who has been particularly helpful in delivering practical measures on the ground.

Holy Family Primary School in Magherafelt in my constituency has been told repeatedly that it is at the top of the list and is a priority for the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and the Department, yet today it still feels deeply let down.  Can the Minister give any reassurance as to when, in the immediate future and not years away, that scheme will go ahead and whether his Department accepts that the school is a priority?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin 12:00 pm, 24th June 2014

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chomhalta as a cheist.  I thank the Member for his question and for his kind comments about my officials, who are carrying out significant work on capital investment.  I am sure that they will appreciate his comments.

I am acutely aware of the case of Holy Family Primary School, and there is no question that it requires being rebuilt.  I cannot commit to a newbuild at this time because I would be giving the Member a false promise.  I could stand here today and announce 100 schools and tell all who ask me that I will build them a new school, but I know that it is not going to happen in a reasonable period. What I have tried to do is manage expectations, manage my budget and manage the workload of my Department, the CCMS and the boards that have to follow through on the investment. 

I have put a protocol in place that I believe is fair, open and transparent, and I have scored schools against that.  As I said in my statement, the fact that a school has not been announced today or perhaps did not score as highly as it expected does not mean that it will not be announced at a later stage.  I have no doubt that there will be significant disappointment that that project has not been announced.  I can only commit to telling the school that I am doing my best for it and other schools to move projects forward.

Photo of Jo-Anne Dobson Jo-Anne Dobson UUP

I also thank the Minister for his statement and welcome the update and funding announcements for schools.  However, will he explain why he has failed to bring forward major capital projects for Lurgan College and Portadown College and, crucially, the Lurgan campus of Craigavon Senior High School, all of which he has been so long aware of?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I appear to have been aware of it longer than you have been, because I am the one who had to remind you that it was in a dire state.  I am glad that the message has finally got through.

Lurgan is a classic example of why we require area planning to work and the needs of the entire school area to be taken into account rather than those of one or two schools in an area.  To date, the debate among many in the Lurgan area has been about the needs of one or two schools rather than those of all the schools in the controlled sector.  I hope that we get to the stage at which we have a debate, a discussion and a decision about the needs of the entire controlled sector in Lurgan.  Then, I assure you, I will commit to following that up with capital investment.

Photo of Thomas Buchanan Thomas Buchanan DUP

In his statement, the Minister makes much about the outworking of the area planning process.  Indeed, he said that all projects would be considered in the context of the area plan and that one of the gateway checks for newbuilds is that "there are no area-planning uncertainties". Given that there are no area plans for the primary sector, how does he marry that with the eight newbuilds announced today?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

There have been draft area plans for the primary sector for a significant period.  I understand that the education and library boards are to publish the next iteration of those plans on their websites, if not in the coming days or weeks, in the very near future.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle.  I, too, welcome the announcements made here today, not just for the eight primary schools and seven post-primary schools on the list but for what it means for the local construction industry.

From a local perspective, I particularly welcome the fact that Gaelscoil na gCrann is on the list.  I have a special interest there, as my children attend the school. It is an excellent learning environment.  This is a great end to the year for the school, which has recently won the all-Ireland drama championship.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I am sure that all of that is important —

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

I am coming to my question.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

— but let us have the question.

Photo of Declan McAleer Declan McAleer Sinn Féin

I am glad that the Department is fulfilling its statutory responsibilities in respect of Irish-medium education.  What message does the Minister think that sends out to other gaelscoileanna and to the Irish-medium sector in general?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I welcome the fact that the Member is in the good books with his children on the newbuild at Gaelscoil na gCrann. It is a flourishing Irish-medium bunscoil or primary school.  It requires investment, and that is why it has scored the way it has and why I am moving forward with the newbuild.

The message that is sent out today is that we will continue to invest in the Irish-medium and integrated sectors.  We will live up to our statutory obligations on that matter.  As I said to Mr Lunn, I am committed to continuing to review the protocol to satisfy myself that we live up to those obligations to the Irish-medium and integrated sectors and to ensure that capital and other investment flows into those sectors to give them a sound foundation in the education system.

Gaelscoil na gCrann has flourished in its temporary accommodation.  It has done so because it has strong leadership, a strong board of governors, dedicated teaching and non-teaching staff and a community that is involved in the school.  Therefore, I welcome the opportunity today to invest in it.

Photo of John Dallat John Dallat Social Democratic and Labour Party

I also thank the Minister for his statement.  I understand fully his cash-strapped condition.  It tells us that teachers who were due for redundancy cannot have it.

Two top secondary schools in my area — St Paul's College and St Mary's College — have statutory notices that they are to close on 31 August 2015 to be replaced by one school, but there is no indication of the new school. Are those two excellent schools to be left to wither on the vine while the Minister continues to plead poverty?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Mr Dallat never rises to speak unless he has his press release in mind.  I can see the headline in the 'Coleraine Times' now: "Dallat challenges Minister".  The Minister is not pleading anything.  Since coming into office, the Minister has been to the fore in saying that the Department of Education's budget does not suffice, neither in resource nor capital.  There is simply not enough money to meet the needs of our education system. 

I am limited in what I can say about the proposals the Member refers to.  If development proposals have been published, due process will take place.  I will make a decision on them in due course.  As I have said, protocols have been introduced to ensure that, when all area planning issues and development proposals have been dealt with, you then make an announcement on a newbuild and the way forward.  If those processes are complete for those schools, they will be taken into due consideration for any future capital announcement.

Photo of Roy Beggs Roy Beggs UUP

I thank the Minister for his statement.  Having raised issues regarding Woodburn Primary School, I am particularly pleased that the Minister has recognised that need and included that school on the list and that he has accommodated a newbuild for the amalgamation of Monkstown Community School and Newtownabbey Community High School.  Given the strong business case, can he confirm that the newbuild will be on the Monkstown site? Will the Minister advise on why a newbuild has not been included for Islandmagee, given the strong number of pupils at schools in that area, which meets the threshold; the need that is there; and the fact that investment has already occurred in a new site and outline planning permission has been approved?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I believe that I made an announcement on Islandmagee in January 2013 after consultation with the board.  The board has since come back and changed its plans for the area.  That is why there are delays. 

Where the newbuild will be for Newtownabbey Community High School and Monkstown Community School will be a decision for the economic appraisal process.  It will be something similar to what Mr Wells raised with me.  Let the processes continue; let the economic appraisal identify sites; and allow the school, the community and elected representatives to make cases for where, they believe, the new site should be.

Photo of Joe Byrne Joe Byrne Social Democratic and Labour Party

I welcome the statement by the Minister.  In relation to the constraints among some stakeholders about design, planning and procurement, can the Minister enlighten us as to what the difficulties are? 

I welcome the announcement on Gaelscoil na gCrann.  What is the current situation regarding the replacement or newbuild for the Dean Maguirc College in Carrickmore, where people have been waiting a long time for a green light?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

Dean Maguirc College is on a list of many schools that require a newbuild.  The fact that I have not announced it today does not mean that it will not get a newbuild in the future. 

I did not catch all of the start of your question — I apologise; there was some noise in the background — but I believe that it was about the challenges that we face with procurement, design etc.  When you bring forward a multimillion-pound project, you have to progress that by assuring yourself that it is best value for the public purse and that all options have been explored.  An economic appraisal can take upwards of a year, and then you move into the design stage.  If the project is worth over £5 million, you have to go through the European Journal and ensure that it is in line with all sorts of things.  You then go through planning.  You then run into problems with bats, badgers and all sorts of wildlife, as well as foliage.  You have to deal with all those unexpected matters that come at you during a building programme.  Hopefully, you then get to the stage at which you put a contractor on-site. Thus far, none of the projects has run as smoothly as anyone would have hoped for, but, when you take into consideration the scale of the investment that we are making, it is to be expected that we will run into problems.

In my Department, we have made structural changes to how we deliver capital and have invested in the boards and the CCMS for the delivery of capital, all of which is now starting to pay dividends.  We made changes to the protocol because of past experiences, and all that will continue to pay dividends into the future.  I remind the Member that we are now delivering one of the Executive's biggest capital programmes, if not the biggest.  DRD is perhaps delivering a bigger programme in finance terms, but DE is delivering the largest number of capital projects.

Photo of Tom Elliott Tom Elliott UUP

I am almost reluctant to welcome the Minister's statement because he may say at a later date, "You welcomed that", but I obviously welcome the capital builds that he has announced for these schools.

I have one query about Enniskillen Model Primary School.  He will be aware that this has been going on since 2003.  It got to the point of almost being given the go-ahead, but some blockages got in the way.  I am looking for an update on that.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I believe that there are issues with numbers and some design heritage matters with the old school, but I will follow up on that in writing to give the Member the full details.

Photo of Steven Agnew Steven Agnew Green

Any investment in schools is to be welcomed, but it would be remiss of me if I did not express my disappointment that there has been no investment in schools in north Down, where there is great need.

The Minister set out the criteria against which he judges a school's application.  What level of transparency can schools and, indeed, MLAs expect on the scoring of schools, so that schools can ascertain whether they are close and how close they are?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

The document was published on the DE website today, and it gives all the information on how the protocol was run.  Any requests from schools for information will be honoured.  Nothing can be hidden; under freedom of information, I would have to release it anyway.  I have no difficulty with being open and transparent about the process.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

The Minister will know about the disappointment felt amongst my constituents in Dromore, given the extensive work to move the project forward.  Indeed, there is some confusion about why the board prioritised the scheme, and yet the Department has not announced funding for it today.  Will the Minister explain why that is?  Has he revised the needs model to meet the obligations under article 64 of the 1989 Order and what he calls the positive prism, which Members on this side of the House call discrimination against the controlled sector?  Is there a reason why some of the schools in the controlled sector did not get funding today?

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I am glad that you went on to clarify your position.  I thought that you had changed your position from last week, when you voted against article 64, but you are still on the same page as you were last week, although you are not on the page that you were on the week before that.  You might change your position by this stage next week. [Interruption.]

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Order.  Allow the Minister to answer.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

I will do my best to keep up with your position, but apologies if I slip now and again.

Significant work has been carried out on the Dromore project, and I recognise the disappointment that Dromore High School will face today.  However, if the business case stacks up, we are committed to buying the site.

That is a significant step forward, and it will increase its accessibility through the protocol as a school that has no significant barriers in its way to moving towards a build.  When we run our next capital announcement, if things stay the way they are, I would expect that school to score very highly and come through the process. 

I am not involved in discrimination against any sector.  The legislation states that I have to positively discriminate in relation to Irish-medium and to the integrated sector, and I make no apologies for that.

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker 12:15 pm, 24th June 2014

Order, Members.  That concludes questions on the ministerial statement.  I ask the House to take its ease as we wait for the Health Minister.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker, in relation to yesterday's questions for oral answer to the Education Minister and today's statement.  Yesterday, the Minister launched what, I presume, was a pre-emptive strike about today's statement and alluded to the capital build projects coming to a total of £180 million. Today, in the statement, he said that they would come to £170 million.  In terms of him misleading the House, can you check Hansard and return to us at a future point?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

I hear the Member's point of order.  All Members need to be careful when accusing Ministers of misleading the House.  Let me read Hansard and come back to the Member.

Photo of John O'Dowd John O'Dowd Sinn Féin

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  I am happy to clarify.  Following Question Time in the House yesterday, a legal matter arose that I do not have privilege to go into detail on, but that will explain some of the concern that Mr Campbell has expressed. [Interruption.]

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Order.  The Minister has clarified his position.  Let us move on.

Photo of Mervyn Storey Mervyn Storey DUP

On a point of order, Mr Speaker.  In the light of the fact that the Minister has concealed information from the House, will the Speaker further pursue the issue and ask the Education Minister to ensure that the reasons why there has been a difference in the two statements will be conveyed to me as Chair of the Education Committee and to the House, which holds the Minister to account?

Photo of William Hay William Hay Speaker

Order.  I am sure that the Minister will clarify his position some time later.  Let us move on.