HC Deb 28 January 1992 vol 202 cc796-7
2. Mr. John Evans

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proposals he has to enable local education authorities to improve the fabric of school buildings.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Michael Fallon)

We have provided £1.8 billion worth of annual capital guidelines and capital allocations to local education authorities and governors of voluntary-aided schools since 1990–91. It is for them to ensure that those substantial resources are used effectively.

Mr. Evans

Is the Minister aware that that sum will in no way meet the amount needed for the enormous backlog of repairs to schools in England, Wales and Scotland? Is he aware that in St. Helens, of the two bids submitted, £1 million was requested to meet health and safety requirements and £1 million was requested for essential repairs? The authority was allocated £587,000. Does the hon. Gentleman acknowledge, therefore, that a number of schools have not yet been made safe for pupils? Is not that disgraceful?

Mr. Fallon

I increased the allocation to St. Helens for improvement work from £311,000 last year to £556,000 this year. St. Helens' overall allocation was low because it did not bid for new places and put any proposals to tackle its serious surplus place problem. Some 6,900 surplus places exist there. That includes more than one quarter of secondary school desks, which are empty.

Mr. Madel

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, when the Education (Schools) Bill becomes law, local education authorities will still have an absolute right to inspect the schools that they maintain, whenever they want to, so that they are always aware of the maintenance that needs to be done?

Mr. Fallon

Not to inspect schools, no, but LEAs will retain reserve powers to ensure that the budget delegated is managed appropriately. Under the Education Reform Act 1988, if an authority believes that a budget is mismanaged it has the ultimate power to withdraw it.

Mr. Loyden

The hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there is some relationship between surplus school buildings and the fabric of schools is nonsense. There are many surplus buildings in Liverpool, but that does not affect the way in which the local authority can carry out necessary improvements, particularly to inner-city schools.

Mr. Fallon

I was simply making the point that there is a cost in keeping a school desk empty—in St. Helens it amounts to about £1.5 million every year. It is perfectly open to LEAs to obtain higher capital allocations from my Department by putting forward sensible proposals to rationalise their school provision.