HC Deb 27 March 1996 vol 274 cc1015-6
3. Mr. Canavan

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make additional resources available to local authorities to enable them to improve or replace sub-standard school buildings. [21321]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Raymond S. Robertson)

My right hon. Friend has made substantial resources available to local authorities for school building work in recent years. In particular, on 4 March he announced the capital allocations for the new authorities for the financial year 1996–97.

Mr. Canavan

Bearing in mind the 47 per cent. cut in capital spending on schools since the Tories came to power, how on earth can the Minister justify giving more than £12 million a year to private, fee-paying schools through the assisted places scheme while pupils in local authority schools such as Graeme high school in my constituency have to put up with sub-standard accommodation? Will the Minister reconsider his refusal to meet representatives of the school's parents? Will he also accept an invitation to visit the school so that he can see the situation for himself and be persuaded either to upgrade or to replace the sub-standard accommodation?

Mr. Robertson

Of course I will visit the school in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. I was also delighted to be able to visit Bo'ness academy on 26 February at the invitation of the hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Connarty). I know that Graeme high school was badly affected by burst pipes during the cold spell at Christmas, but I understand that the necessary repairs have now been carried out. The broader question of refurbishment is a matter for the new Falkirk council.

Mr. Gallie

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the problems in Strathclyde has been the fact that the education authority has kept open far too many school buildings for the number of pupils attending school? As a consequence, it has overstretched its budget. Does he recognise that the change to single-tier authorities will allow the local authority in my area to meet the needs of local people in terms of providing additional nursery places?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The Accounts Commission has said that there are more than 300,000 surplus places in Scottish schools. I hope that the new authorities taking over on 1 April will look sensitively and carefully at the problem of over-capacity, at all times taking parents and others with them so as to ensure that the matter is dealt with sensitively.

Ms Roseanna Cunningham

Is the Minister aware that the population growth in my constituency is quite high? Indeed, I understand that, within 10 years, Perth is likely to be the same size as Dundee, if not larger. In those circumstances, far from any overcapacity, schools in my constituency are full almost to bursting point and in need of long-term repairs and in some cases new schools need to be built. In the current circumstances of local authority funding cuts, particularly in capital allocations, does the Minister agree that it is outrageous that my constituency has no opportunity to rationalise and no real money to undertake work that is absolutely necessary for an area with a growing population?

Mr. Robertson

I remind the hon. Lady that in the five years to 1994 we increased capital allocations for educational building by more than one third and we have maintained that record spending level. The hon. Lady should make her strident representations to her local council, because local democracy and local government are about local councils making their own priorities in the light of their spending decisions.

Forward to