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Major Capital Works Programme

Ministerial Statement – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:15 pm on 23rd June 2020.

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Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin 12:15 pm, 23rd June 2020

I have received notice from the Minister of Education that he wishes to make a statement.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I want to make a statement to the Assembly regarding my major capital works investment plans in the coming period. In my statement to the House on 5 May 2020, I announced investment of around £40 million, across 16 schools, under the school enhancement programme. My focus today is on major capital works projects that I have approved to advance in design. Before I announce those projects, I would like to provide the House with a brief update on the Department's current capital works programme.

My Department is responsible for the planning, management and delivery of a fit-for-purpose schools estate that will provide a first-class educational experience for pupils, staff and wider school communities and help our young people to fulfil their potential. The schools estate is wide and diverse, spread across five sectors, with an even broader management authority base. There are many challenges in managing such an estate, not least of which is the need to balance the limited capital resources that I have available to me against the much-needed capital investment in our schools. It is, therefore, essential that any capital investment is targeted at supporting the delivery of modern, fit-for-purpose schools that are viable and sustainable into the future.

Since 2012, 66 projects have been announced under the major capital works programme. Twenty-six of those projects are now complete, eight are currently on site, 20 are in the design phase, 11 are at business case preparation stage and one is on hold. In addition, 76 projects are being progressed under the school enhancement programme, and a further 27 major capital projects are being progressed under the Fresh Start programme.

In terms of capital budget, I have agreed a provisional budget of £40 million for the major capital works programme and the school enhancement programme in the current financial year, with a further budget of Fresh Start funding of £19·1 million for the Strule shared education campus and agreed shared and integrated school projects. Smaller investment at a larger number of schools continues to be delivered through the minor works capital programme, for which I have agreed a budget of £64 million in this financial year. I also continue to recognise the much-valued education and development of our young people being delivered in non-school settings through youth programmes throughout the country and have ring-fenced a budget of £10 million for capital works for youth centres.

In delivering across those programmes, I am also conscious of my Department's wider environmental responsibilities. I am aware of the emerging regulations aimed at bringing our public buildings to near-zero emissions, and accordingly, following my statement today, I shall instruct my officials to examine how best practice in that regard can be reflected in the design and delivery of the projects that I will announce shortly.

My delivery teams in the Department and its arm's-length bodies continue to work hard to progress projects across all those programmes. However, the time required to develop any major capital project from concept through to actual build means that sufficient projects must be advanced to the point where they could effectively utilise funds that may be available in the future. Therefore, in addressing the need for much greater capital investment across the schools estate, I must ensure that I have sufficient announced projects at an early development stage to ensure that capital budget available to me can be utilised to the greatest extent.

Rather than congest the early stage delivery pipeline with a large number of projects, it is my intention to make modest but more frequent announcements on capital to ensure that those projects announced have gained real traction before the next announcement is made. Therefore, following my announcement today, I intend to ask my officials to commence preparation for a further call for project nominations later in the year to facilitate a further announcement in 2021. This will facilitate schools that need major capital works but have either not scored highly enough on this occasion to feature in this announcement or did not satisfy the gateway requirements but shall do so in the future following, for example, the outworking of a statutory development proposal to either rationalise or amalgamate. For that reason, I have decided to announce nine new major capital projects, with estimated capital in the region of £156 million. An announcement on this scale means that there is sufficient delivery capacity to ensure that work can continue on previously announced projects while also allowing these additional projects to be moved forward at pace.

I take the selection of major capital works projects to advance in design very seriously as, effectively, it is a competitive process. It is, therefore, critical that the process used to select projects is documented and, more importantly, followed. In the last number of years, this has been achieved through the development of a protocol for the selection of projects to advance in design, and the same process has been utilised on this occasion. I do not intend to go into the protocol in great detail. However, in brief, Mr Derek Baker, the Department's permanent secretary, launched a call for major works projects in September 2019 for primary and post-primary schools. By the closing date, 31 October 2019, a total of 89 eligible applications were lodged by school management authorities and sectoral bodies. The applications lodged were assessed in line with the 'Protocol for 2019/20 Major Works Call for Projects', which was agreed and published on the Department's website in advance of the launch of the call. A gateway check was undertaken to ensure that schools considered for major capital investment were viable, sustainable, had certainty about their development and had not been announced to receive major capital funding under the second school enhancement programme. The gateway check resulted in 21 schools being ruled out from further consideration. The remaining 68 schools were ranked on merit based on a scoring system, which was detailed in the protocol, and separate prioritised lists were drawn up for primary schools and post-primary schools.

In deciding the number of schools to announce under the major capital programme, I considered the capital budget required to build these schools, the Department's current capital works programme and the capacity of the resources required to develop and deliver the projects. I understand that there are many competing budget pressures at this time, and the current COVID-19 outbreak has had a significant impact on resource budgets. However, it is important to look to the future and give some much-needed good news not just for schools and the wider school communities but for the contractors, the professionals in the construction industry and the wider economy that will benefit financially from the announcement. Whilst construction spend on these projects is not likely to commence until the 2024-25 financial year, making this announcement today will ensure a steady pipeline of projects in design that, in turn, will ensure the continued modernisation of the schools estate in future years as these projects move to construction.

Now, I wish to turn to the list of major works projects to be advanced in design. Today, I am announcing nine projects to advance in design. These schools will benefit from a total estimated capital investment of £156 million. The list comprises three primary schools and six post-primary schools. The three primary schools to be brought forward in design are Holy Trinity Primary, Enniskillen, St Catherine's Primary, Strabane and St Mary's Primary School, Craigavon. The six post-primary schools to be brought forward in design are All Saints College, Belfast, Blessed Trinity College, Belfast, St Conor's College, Kilrea, St Louis Grammar School, Kilkeel, St Patrick's College, Maghera and Tandragee Junior High School, Tandragee.

It is important to recognise that many schools in the estate are old and are costly to maintain, and others are not operating with sufficient pupil numbers to provide the optimum learning environment as recommended by Bain. There must be careful consideration as to how the available funding is invested. Focusing on area planning and investing in schools that are viable and sustainable will help us all in this endeavour. The schools that have been announced today have met these criteria. In making this announcement today, it is my intention that these projects will be taken through to construction. However, I stress that authorisation to proceed to construction on any individual project will be based on the level of capital funding available at the point when the design is complete and all necessary approvals have been secured.

I recognise that today's announcement will be good news for some and disappointing for many others. For those who have not been successful in their application, I advise that it is my intention to make smaller, more frequent announcements of major capital projects. That approach will ensure that schools that are subject to area planning considerations will be better placed to apply under the next major capital works call for projects.

Finally, I reaffirm that my Department's strategy for capital investment in the coming years will continue to be shaped by the outworking of area planning and the delivery of a modern, fit-for-purpose estate of viable and sustainable schools.

Photo of Chris Lyttle Chris Lyttle Alliance

I thank the Minister for his statement. I will also use this time as an opportunity to continue thank our teachers across Northern Ireland for their hard work, dedication and innovation during the public health emergency and for continuing to work well beyond their contracted hours to achieve a return to education here.

We welcome this investment, but I imagine that most MLAs will be deeply concerned at reports today of a dispute between the DUP and Sinn Féin delaying investment in free school meals and, I understand, quite possibly childcare. Will the Minister update the Assembly on why there has been a delay in delivering that investment in free school meals and childcare and ensure that a political dispute will not lead to further delay in that investment?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I thank the Member for some of his comments, and I join him in thanking not only the teaching workforce in the current situation but the many non-teaching staff who have helped to deliver over the last few months and who will, indeed, continue to deliver.

The question was somewhat tangential to the statement, but let me make it clear that we want to see a resolution to all budget issues, including the victims' pension. That will be progressed, and there is common consent on free school meals in particular. I am confident that that will be progressed to ensure that we will have that provision for our vulnerable children. Particularly for free school meals, in Northern Ireland, the levels of funding for and, indeed, coverage of a number of children have been much greater than in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is something that I welcome, and I look forward to a resolution to all those issues.

Photo of William Humphrey William Humphrey DUP

I thank the Minister for his statement, and I welcome the investment in particular in Blessed Trinity College, which has come from the merger between Little Flower Girls' School and St Patrick's College in North Belfast. That school could certainly do with the investment, so I welcome that.

I thank the Minister for his ongoing work on and support for education in the decisions that he is making in very difficult times. I also thank him for the time he took to visit the Belfast Boys' Model School a couple of weeks ago, and I know that he will visit the Belfast Model School for Girls later this week. Will any further announcements be made on school capital development in this tranche, particularly on Seaview Primary School in North Belfast, which needs a new school urgently and which I mentioned to him before?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I thank the Member for his comments. Yes, and I know that he has been lobbying on a number of projects, particularly Seaview, and that he has been a strong supporter of that school. It is important that we keep a pipeline of projects going. Therefore; it is my intention to make another call in 2021. That will mean, as is inevitably the case with any capital announcements, that those schools that receive will be very happy and those that do not will be disappointed. In some cases, some of those schools will be fairly high on the list, although I am not going to mention particular schools.

A further call will be made in 2021, and the intention will be to make sure that we have a number of calls, with perhaps smaller announcements. On occasions, there have been announcements where there have been a greater number of schools and a longer gap between those calls. I want to make sure that all schools are treated fairly and are given that opportunity. Seaview and, indeed, other schools that have not been successful in this particular call will have that opportunity at the next call, and it will be in 2021.

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

Before I call the next Member to ask a question, I remind Members that to ensure that Hansard and other Members can pick up your comments, you must speak into the microphones and speak through the Chair.

Photo of Karen Mullan Karen Mullan Sinn Féin 12:30 pm, 23rd June 2020

I thank the Minister for his statement. It is welcome news for the successful schools, but many in my city will be disappointed after the announcement, in particular the Irish-medium sector. We have three Irish-medium schools in the city that have operated in so-called temporary accommodation for between 15 and 30 years. You are aware of their situation, and in your statement you say:

"It is, therefore, essential that any capital investment is targeted at supporting the delivery of modern, fit-for-purpose schools that are both viable and sustainable into the future."

I ask you to come to Derry and meet those schools to discuss their needs and outline the process.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I am happy to meet anybody to outline the process. The position is that 89 schools applied, and 68 made the gateway check. By doing so, all 68 are investable. However, there are limitations on resources. One of the restrictions is that something can be done many times over. The scheme was announced in 2019 and scored according to the criteria in the protocol that was existence at that point. It is done directly and fairly, according to those objective criteria. It means that, at times, in individual announcements, different sectors may have different levels of success.

I am committed to ensuring that schools, as much as possible and where it is needed, will get that new school build. However, actions across the board, in individual circumstances, can be taken to ensure that, if there is inadequate provision, where something can be done temporarily in a particular school, it will be looked at. That will be borne in mind as we move into the autumn. We will try to make sure that we maximise the number of children who are directly into the classroom.

I am more than happy to meet anybody from any sector to explain the situation. Inevitably, in announcing successful schools, there will be a much greater pool of schools that will be unsuccessful. That is not because they are without merit; it is because, in the ranking according to the criteria, they were not ranked ahead of other schools that we could announce.

Photo of Daniel McCrossan Daniel McCrossan Social Democratic and Labour Party

I thank the Minister for his statement. For once, I thank you very happily for the announcement in relation to Strabane. It is welcome news, particularly for the principal, Mrs Bridget Wilders, her team and the many families across Strabane who have long awaited the new build and the advancement of the project. Some 470 pupils await this, so it is welcome news.

Many schools across Northern Ireland, including my constituency, are anxious about the return to school, which your Department is working on. What investment or plans are in place to ensure that there is the necessary infrastructure to ensure the safety of staff and pupils in the school environment? For instance, a lot of the discussion has been not just about class sizes but about classroom sizes. What happens in a situation where a small school cannot accommodate the pupils, even with a one-metre distance between pupils, in the classroom? Will provision be made for extra space, and will that be financed by the Department or the EA?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

We have been working on that, and the Finance Minister is keen to be supportive where possible. It may be that practical solutions can be provided. One of the constraints on capital works is that there cannot always be a quick turnaround of that. We are in a rapidly developing situation. My aim is to reach a point that enables everybody to be back in place this autumn all the time. That depends on the wider medical and scientific situation, but it is not something that has been in any way given up or abrogated. Guidance has been issued. Some schools will be able to do it; for many others, the constraints on space will mean that they cannot, if the current environment still prevails. At present, we are making the effort to maximise space and numbers. If there are temporary solutions that can be put in place to aid that, they are to be taken into account. I will seek wider support for the paper that was put to the Executive.

There is also a challenge out there that may be more about providing other locations that can be used for supervised learning. If the voluntary sector, the community sector, Churches and others can assist by providing additional space on a temporary basis, the community should use the opportunity to pull together to try to provide it. We will work with schools to maximise the opportunities to provide space. That work will be ongoing in the weeks to come.

Photo of Rosemary Barton Rosemary Barton UUP

Thank you very much, Minister, for your statement. On the subject of new builds and new schools, I welcome the news about Holy Trinity Primary School in Enniskillen. I also welcome the £19 million for the new integrated school project in Omagh, because a lot of pupils from Fermanagh and South Tyrone are educated in Omagh. I thank you for both.

We have gone through a pandemic with COVID-19. To follow on from Mr McCrossan's question, I would like to know what planning there is for future classroom sizes etc. I know that there are specific instructions when plans are being drawn up for new-build schools. What does the future hold? Are you intending to have classrooms made larger to accommodate social distancing, if it has to be in place in the future?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

It is important that whatever we do be future-proofed, although we cannot always simply react to the precise circumstances. The position, which is always kept under review, is that, whenever schools have been built in recent years, they have been built to handbook specifications on size. For instance, in the primary sector, classrooms in schools of a particular size tend to be 60 square metres or above. The problem is not with what has been built in recent years but is sometimes a reflection of the historical situation. For instance, we find that roughly a third of classrooms are 50 square metres or below in size. As I said, the problem is not to do with the specifications for new builds or any schools that have been recently built but is more to do with the historical situation. What the best specifications are in the handbook is something that will always be kept under review to ensure that we have something that is fit for purpose.

Photo of Joanne Bunting Joanne Bunting DUP

I welcome the statement from the Minister and indeed his strategic vision and commitment to the ongoing improvement of the learning environment for Northern Ireland's children. I draw his attention to where he mentions in his statement £10 million being ring-fenced for capital works for youth centres. I would be grateful if he would expand on the detail. I also draw his attention to the fact that those buildings are dependent on the projects still being in existence in circumstances in which there is a dearth of overall funding, as well as on having the pupils to fill them. I am certain that he is cognisant of the issues, but I would like some reassurance from him that he is giving consideration to them, because he will be aware of the good work that goes on with our young people outside the school curriculum.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

It is undoubtedly the case that, while good work happens in schools, that work is supplemented by those involved formally, particularly through the Youth Service, and by other organisations. I think in particular of voluntary youth organisations and some of the uniformed organisations. There is a range of settings in which, from a practical point of view, there is that level of delivery. I know that this is on a slightly different subject, but, as we look ahead to the summer, I am keen that, in addition to what is done officially through Youth Service, broad permission be given to organisations to take action over the summer, provided that they follow the public health advice.

The £10 million is provided on the basis that youth centres are slightly different from schools. It would be unfair if they were bundled in together. That would be like comparing apples to pears. That is why there has been a level of separate provision. When I accompanied a couple of Members on school visits in the north-west some months ago, we visited a youth centre, and I think that it is progressing. I think that an official announcement was made about the work ongoing on that and the replacement. There is a critical role for the Youth Service.

It is the case that longer-term provision is made on the basis of ensuring that there are pupils to fill the places. Over a decade ago, when it was probably felt that there was a fairly open amount of money that would simply go on and on, a number of capital announcements were made without ensuring that that provision was future-proofed. That is why, as part of any process, the gateway check is there to make sure that schools meet the requirements of area planning. As time moves on, it is likely that there will be changes to the gateway checks. Some schools will fail to make it because of an artificial barrier in their numbers that, sometimes, reflects their historic enrolment. It is the case, therefore, that any announcements will be made on the basis that the school is sustainable into the future. The gateway check, therefore, becomes critical in making sure that we are not, potentially, pouring money into a school that may not have a future five or 10 years down the road.

Photo of Sinéad Ennis Sinéad Ennis Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his statement. I am absolutely delighted to see the inclusion of St Louis Grammar School in Kilkeel. The Minister will know of my persistence in ensuring that there is financial investment in the school and in the wider Mourne area. I cannot think of a school that is more deserving. As someone who has worked closely with the board of governors of St Louis Grammar School, I know that they will be absolutely thrilled to be included in today's announcement. The investment is absolutely necessary and justified. It will allow the much-needed new school build to proceed at pace, and it will ensure continued educational excellence and the viability of education in the Mournes.

Will the Minister outline the process for the next steps for schools? I invite him to Kilkeel to meet the teaching staff and the board of governors to discuss the next steps with him, and I know that he will be very much welcomed.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I thank the Member for her observations. I suspect that there will be at least 18 different views in the Chamber about which is the most deserving school project to be at the top of any list. That is why there always needs to be objective criteria. I will be happy to go down to Kilkeel or to other places. On a visit to Newry, I met all the post-primary principals from the Newry and south Down area, including, I think, representatives from Kilkeel. I think that there was somebody there from St Louis Grammar School.

The next steps in the process will be to work through the business case and carry out a feasibility study that will make sure that what is put forward is fit for purpose. In most cases, it will be a direct new build, but, if there is a different solution, that is what will be done. By their nature, major capital works tend to take longer than other types of capital works, in part because one of the issues is that a project board will have to be established in each case. Where those works differ from the school enhancement programme, not just in terms of scale, is that, as part of the process, there will be a site search. Areas will be scoped out in the local area to establish the best location according to value for public money and its fitness for purpose. That will, inevitably, mean that things take a bit longer.

In the current circumstances, however, there will be no barriers to that. We all live in a slightly more virtual world than we did a few months ago, and all those issues will be able to be commenced. It will follow, if you like, standard procedure, but, again, I will be happy to meet representatives of the school at some stage.

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

What is the breakdown of spending across all the schools that have been successful today? Will the Minister enlighten the House on the differences between the school enhancement programme and the major capital works programme?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 12:45 pm, 23rd June 2020

There will be individual budgets that are tentatively set aside. Roughly speaking, because the bulk of them tend to be of a much greater scale, we are looking at around about £20 million on the primary side of it, for the three schools, and the remainder of the budget being spent on the post-primary side. Those will be adjusted a little bit as we move into feasibility studies and business cases.

On the school enhancement programme, there are two major differences which then lead to a consequential change. First, there is an upper limit of £4 million on the school enhancement programme. Major capital works are pitched above that. The school enhancement programme also has a minimum level of investment of £500,000. The other issue is that the school enhancement programme is essentially to take an existing building and, by its nature, enhance it. So it may well be that an additional sports hall is built, a science block or something of that nature. It will involve work happening on site.

With major capital works, there will be an examination of, effectively, what is the best site on which to rebuild a new school. On some occasions, that will mean a build which actually takes place on the site of the existing school, but that is not necessarily the case. A school enhancement programme will always take place on site. That affects the speed of turnaround, both in terms of size and the fact that it takes a major element out of the process. School enhancement programmes will typically be delivered a lot quicker than major capital projects.

Photo of Caoimhe Archibald Caoimhe Archibald Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for his statement. It is welcome that St Conor's in Kilrea, which is in my constituency, is one of the post-primaries that have benefited from investment to advance and design. It is also welcome that the design and delivery of these builds will be based on net zero emissions. That is very welcome.

Ms Bunting addressed the £10 million that has been ring-fenced for youth centres. When do you expect announcements around that to be made? Will they be included in this process, or is a completely new process required for those projects?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

In terms of the exact timescales, I can certainly get back to the Member. In many ways, it is a separate project, and quite often the nature and scale of youth centres will tend to be smaller than a major capital build with schools. That is why it is kept on a separate side of it, and also on the basis that it is not comparing like with like, so it will be dealt with in a separate way.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

Will the Minister join with me in applauding our principals, teachers, school staff, parents and pupils, whose roles have been completely reconfigured and who have had to make the best out of very difficult and challenging circumstances?

I welcome the statement today and the continued investment in our school estate. I particularly welcome the inclusion of Tandragee Junior High School, and I especially welcome the commencement on site of St Joseph's High School in Crossmaglen. Will the Minister update the House on the proposed new builds at St Peter's, Collegeland and St Malachy's, Armagh, both of which were announced in March 2016?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

First of all, I am happy to join in the thanks to teaching and non-teaching staff. I also think that we should be thankful for the role played by parents and students, who have been left at times in a very difficult situation, particularly younger children, and who must be wondering at times what is going on. I am certainly happy to congratulate them on that.

In terms of the specifics of the two projects, I do not have the detail directly at hand, but I will be happy to write to the Member with the detail.

Photo of Robbie Butler Robbie Butler UUP

I thank the Minister for his announcements today and, whilst none of them extend to Lagan Valley, I join in the thanks that everybody has given from their respective areas for the schools that have benefited. You did talk, Minister, about emerging regulations aimed at bringing our public buildings to a near-zero net emissions target, which is appropriate, ambitious and commendable, but I would have liked to have heard a line about therapeutic design. When we talk to young people, the number-one issue that they talk about is mental ill health, and schools and the school environment have a major part to play. I would like to have heard a commitment towards a zero-suicide-focused design. Can the Minister give us a commitment today that that is indeed the case, and it was just omitted from his statement?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Everything will always be tried to be done around mental health. I am conscious of what can be promised. All of us have the ambition to see zero suicides. Whilst there is a contribution with regard to the environment, it is a much wider issue than simply the school buildings.

One thing that has struck me is around designs that have been put in place. To be fair, from visiting school buildings, even with schools that have been built in the last decade or so, you will see that consideration has been given, in the design, to the impact of the broader mental health environment. For example, in a school that is roughly 10 years old, you will see a much greater use of space and light, and the atmosphere that that automatically creates is conducive to helping with broad schooling and also mental health. That is part of the broader process.

With regard to design, there is much more imagination and thinking, particularly around the use of windows and open spaces which create a better atmosphere. Buildings can take us so far but there is a range of other interventions which, as all of us know, need to happen. They are happening to some extent, but we need to make sure that they are there. That is why, for instance, in this year's budget I have given additional funds. It remains to be seen whether further assistance is possible from the COVID side of it, but, prior to that, I was keen to commit additional spend around mental health, particularly focused in primary schools which, to some extent, have maybe been the poor relation of that funding, but there are additional resources this year that will tackle the issue not just within the school system but in a wider context as well. It is a job for all of us.

Photo of Gordon Dunne Gordon Dunne DUP

I thank the Minister for his announcement today. The investment in new builds is really welcomed. Does the Minister recognise, or have any ideas, around further opportunities for investment in our schools, especially in the north Down area? Bangor Central Integrated Primary School has long awaited such an announcement, which you are aware of, Minister.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

Bangor Central is part of the Fresh Start money, so it is happening. As is often the case, and particularly with a major capital announcement, it takes a while to go through processes. I give the Member an absolute assurance that Bangor Central and a number of other projects are happening. Priory Integrated College, for instance, is part of that. The Member may be very keen to slip a couple of additional schools into the announcement today but it is what it is.

It is important, in getting this right, that there will be a mixture of major capital announcements and, as part of that, I want to create a mix and also a school enhancement programme because that can also be the solution as well as other minor works. Despite circumstances, there has been a small increase in the maintenance budget this year. If we can head off problems, prior to them happening, that is also something that would be welcome.

Photo of Catherine Kelly Catherine Kelly Sinn Féin

Thank you, Minister, for your statement. I am very glad to see St. Catherines’ Primary School in Strabane included in the plans, going forward. I also welcome the further commitments made around the Strule project. What does today's announcement mean for the Strule project with regard to the delivery of the campus?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

It is confirming that, within the capital budget, further work will be done this year. Unfortunately, because of the particular circumstances of Strule, there was disruption caused by the COVID intervention. That has knocked things back a little bit. Strule is the biggest single investment that Education has put into place in any one site. It may even be one of the biggest investments that the Executive as a whole have ever put in, so it is a key priority.

With regard to the direct reference to the nine schools, that does not directly impact on Strule but it is a clear indication of the direction of travel and that there is an ongoing commitment to Strule. I had the great honour, along with the then First Minister and deputy First Minister, of visiting Arvalee School when it was opened. It was the first element and I look forward to seeing the other schools on campus being opened as well.

Photo of Kellie Armstrong Kellie Armstrong Alliance

Thank you, Temporary Speaker. It seems quite strange to say that but it is good to see you sitting up there. It is a different way to look at this place.

Thank you very much, Minister, for your statement. In it, you confirm a further £19·1 million for Strule and shared and integrated education. The dictionary definition of further is additional. Given that Fresh Start is a fixed budget, is that more money? Will the Minister breakdown how the £19·1 million will be spent? If Strule accesses the majority of that amount, is that part of the planned spend on Strule or is this more money that is going out of Fresh Start to one project? If the Minister is able to access further capital funding, what money is he planning to spend to facilitate the necessary space for the educational restart programme?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

We have been working with colleagues on any additional support that can be there, particularly on a temporary basis, for the restart programme. It is ultimately a profiling issue. One of the restrictions that was put on Fresh Start — the Member will be only too aware of this — was that what was provided by the Treasury was ring-fenced to a particular amount of money. Therefore, if bidders missed out, they did not get another chance in that particular year. We have been able to some flexibility.

Wearing a different hat, I can say that that was initially secured through the confidence and supply arrangement, but it has been honoured by the Government since. It was about ensuring that all the money that was available through Fresh Start was delivered in that period. Consequently, that meant some re-profiling, with some stuff being brought forward at times. The aim is that everything — from across the considerable support of £500 million — is spent within the time constraint.

Photo of Paul Givan Paul Givan DUP

I know that, today, there will be schools that are, rightly, very pleased with the outcome, but the people in Dromore will be extremely disappointed with this decision. There is a school with over 1,000 children, a canteen that can only serve half of them and no disability access. They have to access sports facilities from outside their precincts, and there is an expectation that that school needs to have a new build. What assurances can the Minister give that, in the next call, the criteria that are used will not disadvantage schools, such as the school in Dromore, which are not able to merge with another school in their vicinity because they are already at capacity and bursting at the seams?

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I will make two points, and I know that I will visit Dromore High soon. First of all, the criteria are always kept under review to try to make sure, as we move ahead, that any future call is done on as fair a basis as possible. I know that Dromore High has very strong needs, as do a number of schools. The other thing is that because nine schools have been given the green light, when it comes to the next call, they will effectively be out of the picture and will not be at the head of queue. That means that, when a further call is made, whether it is on this or on other issues, those schools that missed out today will have a much greater opportunity to feature in the top number. Once a capital announcement is made, it effectively puts successful schools out of the picture. I appreciate that a number of schools in Northern Ireland have not been successful today. That is not to say that they will not be successful in the future.

Photo of Gerry Kelly Gerry Kelly Sinn Féin

The Business Committee has arranged to meet at 1.00 pm. I propose, therefore, by leave of the Assembly, to suspend the sitting until 2.00 pm. The first item of business will be Question Time, after which questions on the Minister's statement will resume. The first Member to ask a question will be Sinéad Bradley.

The debate stood suspended. The sitting was suspended at 12.58 pm.

On resuming (Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair) —