HC Deb 25 June 1991 vol 193 cc849-50
6. Mr. Ronnie Campbell

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to deal with the backlog of repair and maintenance in schools; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fallon

Support for recurrent spending on education, including repairs and maintenance, totals £17.5 billion this year, an increase of 16 per cent. over the comparable total for last year. Annual capital guidelines for schools total £472 million, an increase of 15 per cent. on last year. It is for individual local education authorities and school governors to determine their expenditure priorities within their total resources.

Mr. Campbell

Is the Minister aware that the Northumberland education authority has accrued a repair bill of £10 billion during the lifetime of this Government? [Interruption.] I am sorry—£10 million. Is the Minister further aware that school teachers in the county of Northumberland have been given plastic buckets to catch rain coming in through school roofs?

Mr. Fallon

I am aware of the problems of Northumberland education authority, including its difficulties with timber-framed structures. That is why we have increased Northumberland's capital guideline from £1.9 million last year to £3.5 million this year.

Mr. Dover

Is the Minister aware that the best plan that he ever had to clear the backlog of repairs was to have local management of schools and to enable schools to look forward to the opting-out system? It is only when schools have control of their own funds that they can do the repairs that they badly need to have done.

Mr. Fallon

My hon. Friend is quite right. Giving schools their own budgets is the fastest way of ensuring that money allocated for schools is actually spent on schools. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that the average amount being held back per pupil this year is £230. That is the local education authority tax on every pupil, which is being spent on so-called central services when it could be spent in the classroom.

Mr. Matthew Taylor

The Minister knows that in allocating funds to local authorities for school building programmes there are real problems in areas such as my own, with aging Victorian schools, particularly primary schools, without school halls and without inside toilets. Year after year, those schools have not been getting funds because they are third in the order of priorities and therefore the problem has never been tackled. Again, last year, we had £6 million to spend and £100 million problem growing, so there was another year of decline. Will the Minister tackle that problem? When will he conclude his review of the minimum standards for school building, or is he planning to cut them and wait until after the general election to admit it?

Mr. Fallon

I understand the problems of local education authorities in areas such as that which the hon. Gentleman represents. That is why we have ensured an overall increase of 15 per cent. in schools' capital and a specific 50 per cent. increase in the capital category specially allocated for improvement and replacement work, which this year has gone up by 50 per cent. to £109 million.

Mr. Devlin

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) that local management of schools is the best way to deal with the backlog of repairs. Is my hon. Friend the Minister aware that in Cleveland, the LEA has let three-year contracts to the direct labour organisation for all school maintenance and repairs? That has been done on a cost-neutral basis to frustrate the Government's policy of delegating budgets to schools. What does the Minister intend to do about that?

Mr. Fallon

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are going to do something about that. The contracts were entered into before local management of schools began. As soon as each of those contracts expires, the amount concerned must be delegated down to the head and the governors, who we believe are able to arrange maintenance and repairs much more cost effectively than can be achieved by the local education authority through its direct labour organisation.

Mr. Straw

In a recent magazine interview, the Secretary of State said: I don't believe the figure of a £3 to £4 billion backlog of repairs", and described that figure as "campaigning nonsense". As that figure was based on his own Department's survey of school buildings, will the Minister say what the correct figure is, or does he not know?

Mr. Fallon

In the four years since that survey was carried out, £2 billion has already been spent in clearing the backlog. The amount spent on repairs and maintenance per pupil has risen from £28 in 1979 to £64 in 1989—a real terms increase of about 20 per cent.