T5. Mr Beggs asked the Minister of Education what plans he has to increase the transparency of the school-building process so that there is a greater understanding of the cumulative pressures for capital rebuild and a greater level of transparency as to how projects are prioritised, given his recent comment that he has a list of around 100 schools that he would like to be rebuilt. (AQT 2195/11-15)
The Member will be or should be aware that, after my announcement in 2013 or 2014, I published on my Department's website the criteria that are used for the selection of new builds. There is no onus on me to do that. The authority rests solely with the Minister as to which new builds go ahead, but I believe in transparency in government and in accountability, hence the reason why I published the criteria.
Will the Minister acknowledge that it would be healthy if there was a wider understanding of the pressures that schools are under, the poor condition of some of them and the need to rebuild so that, when deciding whether to build new departmental headquarters, thought is given to costs and options so that all Departments are prioritised appropriately?
In general, there is acceptance among the political class of the pressures on all our budgets, particularly capital and resource. The question is about where you place priorities in society and what you want the direction of travel to be. That is at the heart of the question. I have a capital budget that is 20% reduced on last year. I have to make decisions. I will be making announcements in the coming days, and I will be in the Education Committee for further scrutiny around those matters. I remain hopeful that, through in-year funding, I will be able to access further capital funds for various projects. We are at a stage in education where we have a significant number of projects that are, if not shovel ready, very close to being shovel ready and can react quite quickly to the availability of funds.