HC Deb 13 November 1973 vol 864 cc229-31
9. Mr. Barnes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will now increase the cost limits for educational buildings.

Mrs. Thatcher

Price movements since the last increase in cost limits are being taken into account in drawing up the arrangements for the resumption of approvals for educational building. An announcement will be made as soon as possible.

Mr. Barnes

Is not the right hon. Lady aware that the situation is extremely serious, especially in London, because the average level of tenders has increased by about 60 per cent. in the last year whereas costs limits have increased by only 22 per cent., with the result that schools being built in London are not up to standard, especially in such things as cloakrooms, showers and changing rooms? As that is not, as far as I know, happening in other parts of the country such as the North and the Midlands, does not the right hon. Lady think that there is an overwhelming case for a regional differentiation in the cost limits?

Mrs. Thatcher

It would be difficult to get precise regional variations. Tenders do not vary on the basis of regions, nor indeed on the basis of the standards of schools. One of the most important factors in the standards which architects can get out of the cost limits is their own ability to design. I have seen a number of schools in what one might call high-cost areas which have much better facilities than schools in low-cost areas, the differences being brought about by the architects.

Mrs. Renée Short

Would the right hon. Lady care to forecast what the Bank Rate will be at the end of the moratorium and what she thinks will be the additional cost to local education authorities when they have to go out to tender again to get new prices to build schools which she is not allowing them to build now?

Mrs. Thatcher

Even if I could, I should not make such a forecast.

Mr. Astor

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that it is not only in the London area that authorities are having great difficulty in keeping within the present cost limits? In Berkshire the difficulties are particularly acute. Will my right hon. Friend consider that area, which is short of school places?

Mrs. Thatcher

I recently went to a school not far from my hon. Friend's constituency and found that it had excellent standards, even though it was not complete. When we consider the new cost limits we shall look at the tenders coming in to see what new limits need to be adjusted.