HC Deb 26 March 1998 vol 309 cc663-4
1. Mr. Bill O'Brien

If he will make a statement on the application of the PFI to the provision of new schools. [34894]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Dr. Kim Howells)

Following the successful award of the first PFI contract to replace Colfox school in Dorset, the Government have not stood still. We have recently announced support for a further 10 schools projects with a total capital value of almost £200 million. In addition, we are currently assessing proposals from local education authorities for five large-scale public-private partnership projects to be supported with funding through the new deal for schools. Projects under way and being considered represent a mixture of new schools, replacement schools and the repair and maintenance of schools. In every case, value for money in meeting need is a prime consideration.

Mr. O'Brien

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply and for the outline of what the Government are doing about the replacement of schools. I should like to take this opportunity to thank him for the many other instances of help that he gives to Back-Bench Members. May I put to him the position of Wrenthorpe junior school in my constituency? It is 100 years old, decrepit and falling down. It is in a terrible state and needs to be replaced. If we cannot replace it through ordinary funding to the LEA, would it be possible to consider using the private finance initiative to replace that school?

Dr. Howells

Many local authorities are developing public-private partnerships to refurbish and repair their schools and many more are planning to do so. The projects range from individual primary school replacements to repair and maintenance schemes covering whole school estates. It is an exciting initiative and I welcome imaginative proposals from Wakefield LEA to use public-private partnerships to improve the standards in its schools.

Mr. Gray

The heads of governors and headmasters in Malmesbury, Chippenham and Wootton Bassett in my constituency who are currently working on a £21 million PFI bid will have been pleased to hear the Minister's support for the use of PFI in rebuilding schools. Will the Minister have a word with his unreconstructed socialist friends who run Swindon borough council and who are reported in the papers this morning as saying that they are wholly opposed to the Labour Government's use of PFI?

Dr. Howells

They have not told us that and, if they do, I will have a few words to say to them.

Mr. White

As the Minister will be aware, my local authority has to build 15 new schools in the next five years and such schools can be built only with the use of the PFI. Will my hon. Friend consider innovative ways of involving the private sector in a lifelong learning project that is not just about schools?

Dr. Howells

That is an important consideration. We want schools that are rebuilt and refurbished so that they can meet the needs of the communities that they serve. That means we need all sorts of imaginative approaches to PFI and PPP schemes. The initiative can be a positive bonus and guarantee streams of funding for the schools. It can mean that schools will be built more quickly and tailored more precisely to the needs of their communities.