HC Deb 23 July 1985 vol 83 cc849-51
4. Mr. Pike

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received regarding funds for maintenance and repair of school buildings.

Mr. Dunn

Within the last few months my right hon. Friend has received the report of Her Majesty's inspectors on the effects on education provision of LEA expenditure policies in 1984 and the 1985 report of the expenditure steering group on education, both of which consider the repair and maintenance of the educational building fabric among other issues. The question of school repair and maintenance was also discussed at this month's meeting of NEDC. In addition, my right hon. Friend and I receive letters on this subject from time to time.

Mr. Pike

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that LEAs are facing a crisis with regard to their buildings? For example, Lancashire county council estimates that it needs to spend £32.7 million this year to put its school buildings in order. The council is able to spend only £6.1 million because of the Government's revenue and capital restraints. Is it not time that the Government provided sufficient money for councils to deal with their buildings and stop deterioration, otherwise there will be consequent effects on education?

Mr. Dunn

The allocation for Lancashire is already the second highest given to any LEA for 1985–86.

Mr. Powley

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is always, even in education, a limited amount of money available within the budget, however sympathetic we may be? Does he agree that if a greater proportion of that money is taken up in wages and salaries a lower proportion will be expended on maintaining school buildings and other vital school equipment? Does my hon. Friend agree also that moderation in pay settlements must encourage local authorities to spend more money on maintaining school buildings?

Mr. Dunn

My hon. Friend's interpretation is right. I am pleased to say that since 1978–79 local education authorities have increased their spending on repair and maintenance of educational buildings. Spending increased by 8 per cent. in real terms between 1978–79 and 1983–84 -the latest year for which information is available.

Mr. Freud

Does the Minister accept that some local authorities are incapable of solving their present financial problems in respect of rebuilding and repairing schools? Will he ask the Secretary of State for the Environment to allow them a one-off grant?

Mr. Dunn

The hon. Gentleman's comments will be in the Official Report, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will probably read them. If costs can be maintained and savings made elsewhere, our plans for 1985–86 should provide scope for some improvement in the level of expenditure per pupil on repairs and maintenance in many authorities.

Mr. Greenway

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is important for school buildings to be properly maintained, so that they do not become damaged or derelict? Does he accept that some pupils can contribute to the maintenance of buildings, as I know from experience? Could that be considered?

Mr. Dunn

I am perfectly prepared to take on board anything that my hon. Friend says, in view of his long experience in the education service.

Mr. Jack Thompson

Is the Minister aware that some school buildings which I visited recently are in such a condition that if they came under the offices and factories legislation they would have been closed by now?

Mr. Dunn

I take seriously the concern expressed in the reports and in comments made today about the state of many schools and college buildings. It is clear that that is the accumulated result of inadequate expenditure on repair and maintenance of the building stock for many years.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

When my hon. Friend considers the question of schools which have amalgamated because of falling rolls and which now require larger sports and recreational facilities to cope with the larger numbers of pupils, will he bear in mind that Roman Catholic and Anglican churches in Lancashire have meticulously raised money to repair their buildings, and that they cover 50 per cent. of the children in Lancashire?

Mr. Dunn

I understand precisely my hon. Friend's point. However, if the Labour party had its way, there would be no Church schools about which she could be concerned.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

In his opening remarks the Minister mentioned the National Economic Development Council. Does he accept that the Department, in its evidence to the NEDC, stresses that a significant number of our pupils and students are now being taught in wholly inadequate accommodation? What will the Government do about finding extra money for local authorities and to remove the penalties in the present rate support grant system from local authorities which want their children to be taught in decent school buildings?

Mr. Dunn

On the question of making savings in the education service, I direct the hon. Gentleman's attention to the Audit Commission's report, which found that real savings can be made on the provision for school caretaking, cleaning and meals. I commend that line of action to many local authorities, which are at present not doing enough in that respect.