HC Deb 17 February 1987 vol 110 cc761-2
8. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the capital allocations made to local education authorities for 1987–88.

Mrs. Rumbold

We have received 210 such representations, including those referring to allocations for capital work at voluntary-aided and special agreement schools.

Mr. Alton

In view of the plentiful evidence that Her Majesty's inspectors of schools has given the Minister and her colleagues about the decaying state of school buildings, the massive backlog of repairs and the problems with having them carried out and about the absence of maintenance in many schools, what evidence does she adduce that capital allocations for schools are adequate?

Mrs. Rumbold

Local authorities are aware that they can put in their bids for capital allocations on the criteria that are set out by the Department, and I believe that that is what they do. They are also aware that they can use their capital receipts to top up expenditure on educational buildings. They are further aware that, within the five blocks of capital allocations, they can move between the various blocks to meet priorities. In the end, it is a decision for local authorities.

Mr. Rowe

Does my hon. Friend accept that all the arbitrary distinctions made by central Government between revenue and capital expenditure, the distinction made in education is one of the most damaging? Will she assure us that, in the discussions about allocation of school budgets and greater independence therein, that particular distinction will be considered with care?

Mrs. Rumbold

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. I think that he heard my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State refer to financial delegation for schools and state his belief that that is something towards which we should work.

Mr. Weetch

Does the Minister realise that there would be less pressure on capital allocations if school buildings were maintained in a state of good repair? If we wanted a logo for the state of some of the buildings in East Anglia, it would be a rotting window frame. Does the hon. Lady agree that no saving is made through the neglect of maintenance and repair, because in the end remedial works cost a great deal more?

Mrs. Rumbold

Some £400 million a year is spent on the maintenance of school buildings. It is for local authorities to ensure that their schools are properly maintained. Indeed, they have been able to do that over the past few years. As a member of a local authority, I made clear decisions about the repair and maintenance of schools in my authority, and consequently we did not suffer from the same sort of problem.

Mr. Dover

Is my hon. Friend aware that Lancashire has failed to apply for funds in accordance with the Government's priorities, and by so doing has lost £4 million for this coming year?

Mrs. Rumbold

For the information of my hon. Friend and the House, I shall put on the record what has happened in Lancashire. The authority has claimed that it did not know, and could not have known, the amount available or the predicted outcome of its submission. It is true that the authority could not possibly have known what the total Government allocation would be, but it is not true that the authority did not know the priorities of the Department in allocating capital resources. Indeed, last year, 1986–87, it asked for £5 million committed expenditure for the coming year. As it happens, its submission was for £2.8 million, which it was then allocated. It cannot, therefore, be part of the Department's responsibility if the other £2 million, for which the authority did not ask, was not given.