HC Deb 13 February 1973 vol 850 cc1122-3
10. Mr Duffy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will now raise the cost limits imposed on local authorities in order that they can maintain standards in planning for new schools.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am aware that a number of authorities are facing cost difficulties and that the recent wage award in the building industry will influence school building costs. I am keeping cost limits under review.

Mr. Duffy

Is the right hon. Lady aware that in the West Riding of Yorkshire some 48 schools due to be built in the coming year will be hit by inflation with the result that some may not even get off the ground? Is she aware, further, that tenders for school projects already are running £30,000 above her Department's cost limits and that unless she raises them soon local authorities will have to choose between building substandard schools or none at all?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are familiar with this kind of problem which happens when cost limits appear not to be wholly adequate and are not raised as often as hon. Members would wish. We are following the same procedure as is customary—that is, being specially understanding about any abnormal costs which have to be met.

Mr. Armstrong

Is the right hon. Lady aware that it is not an abnormal situation any longer and that it is now normal throughout the country? Is she aware further, that a number of builders put in tenders knowing that they do not want the jobs in question? The difference between the tender price and the cost limits is such that school building is being held up. This is very urgent. Will the right hon. Lady please do something about it?

Mrs. Thatcher

Despite the hon. Gentleman's fears, I believe that we shall achieve our school building starts programme this year.

Mr. Raphael Tuck:

What is the use of having rigid cost limits when the cost of living is rising and rising? Why not gear the cost limits to the cost of living so that they can rise pari passu?

Mrs. Thatcher

Because the cost of living index is not the best one in this case. The cost limits went up by 15 per cent. in April of last year, by 13 per cent. in April of the previous year and by 10 per cent. the April before that. On the whole the Department has not been slow to respond to the rising costs of building.