HC Deb 12 March 1991 vol 187 cc797-9
10. Mr. Vaz

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a further statement on the cost of school repairs.

Mr. Fallon

Provision to meet the recurrent cost of school repairs is included in the total standard spending settlement, which in 1991–92 allows for local authorities in England to spend some £17.5 billion on education. It is for each local authority to decide how much to spend on repairing school buildings from the recurrent resources available to it.

Mr. Vaz

Is the Minister aware of the serious crisis affecting schools in Leicestershire due to the lack of school repairs? Does he realise that schools in my constituency have had to wait a collective total of one and a half centuries for repairs to be initiated? Will he visit schools such as Abbey primary school where 75 children have to share one lavatory? Would the Minister like to share one lavatory with 75 of his colleagues at the Department of Education and Science? Will he visit such schools or provide the local authority with the resources that it needs to initiate repairs?

Mr. Fallon

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's concern about schools in Leicestershire—so much so that I have agreed to meet him next week to discuss the matter further. Leicestershire received an allocation of £6.9 million this year, which was over half its bid, for schools alone. That is certainly above average for England.

Mr. Haselhurst

Would not it be possible to achieve a more flexible and perhaps more cost-effective approach to school repairs by allowing schools to have more control over their budgets?

Mr. Fallon

Yes, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the heart of the matter. The more money that is delegated to schools level, the more it can be protected from the politicians and bureaucrats at county hall and spent on those items that the headmaster and governors regard as essential.

Mr. Straw

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that the Secretary of State is seeking to justify the gross and excessive financial inducements being offered to grant-maintained schools by way of additions for repairs and other matters by the allegation that they are necessary due to what he describes as past neglect by local education authorities? Is the Under-Secretary of State further aware that the Secretary of State has been unable to place in the Library of the House any evidence whatever of such past neglect? Is not that allegation without foundation doubly shameful, given that the clear responsibility for the neglect of school buildings across the country is not the fault of the local authorities but that of central Government who, over the past 10 years, have denied local authorities the money to repair their schools?

Mr. Fallon

If grant-maintained schools had felt properly looked after by their councils, they would not have chosen to be grant maintained. Through direct grants, we are able to spend more on such schools than their councils have spent over the years. Extra spending on schools should be welcomed and not complained about.

Mr. Conway

Is it my hon. Friend's experience that schools that have complete control of their budgets have a more flexible and successful repairs policy compared with schools that still see a huge slice of their possible repairs budget retained by the local education authority for its own bureaucratic purposes?

Mr. Fallon

That is exactly why we aim shortly to propose a new requirement as to the maximum amount that a local education authority can hold back at the centre. It is to ensure that more resources are delegated to school level where they can best be allocated.