Education Capital Plans

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:00 pm on 18th October 2021.

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Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party 2:00 pm, 18th October 2021

3. Mr McNulty asked the Minister of Education what assessment has been made of the impact that increasing costs of raw materials and labour have had on the delivery of her Department's capital plans. (AQO 2580/17-22)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

The increase in cost and delivery times for raw materials is having an impact on a number of my Department's capital projects. For the schemes that are under construction, the Department of Finance has provided guidance that seeks to deal with the current market uncertainty. My officials are working with professional colleagues in the Education Authority and DOF on the implementation of that guidance. They are also working with EA colleagues to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are included in future contracts to permit consideration of material price inflation in the context of each contract. My Department will continue to deliver future schemes within the capital budget allocated by the Executive.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

Minister, you say that the Department of Finance has issued guidance. Does that guidance amount to additional funding for the contracts? What is the impact on the programme's time frame? Are contracts being delayed, and are long-awaited school builds being delayed even further?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. As I said, my officials have engaged with colleagues in construction and procurement delivery in the Department of Finance. They are finalising guidance that will assist parties to work out material costs and so on under a procurement advisory note that was issued on 3 August 2021.

There are discussions taking place at the moment about ongoing projects. If you have a build that is of particular concern to you, contact me, and I will see where it is and how it has been impacted on.

Photo of Pat Sheehan Pat Sheehan Sinn Féin

The pandemic and the need for greater ventilation and physical distancing in schools have brought into sharp focus the unsuitable, out-of-date and even crumbling infrastructure in some of our school estate. We must prioritise investment in modern, up-to-date facilities for children and young people. Will the Minister tell us when she expects to make her next announcement on capital projects?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question and, indeed, for his comments. I have spoken in the Chamber as well about the disparity of provision across our school estate.

It is my intention to make a further major capital call before the end of this financial year that will hopefully address some of the issues. As the Member will be aware, however, a long line of schools has already been announced, through either major capital calls or the school enhancement programme (SEP), for which the works are still not on the ground. I am sure that there will be Members who will ask questions about the schools for which projects have been announced.

While it is positive that there are capital calls, it is about ensuring that the money is available as soon as possible in order to action those calls.

Photo of Mike Nesbitt Mike Nesbitt UUP 2:15 pm, 18th October 2021

The original question was about concerns regarding the increased costs of raw materials and labour. Does the Minister have any concerns about the availability of appropriate raw materials and suitably skilled labour?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I do. The availability of various aspects of that and of labour has been impacted particularly by COVID. I know that, for example, in some schools, key trades have not been able to be at their work as a consequence of COVID-19, and that has produced delays of perhaps six weeks when teams are out. I have a concern about that and the slippage that that causes for a number of projects, but we are in exceptional circumstances, and we need to be mindful of that.