HC Deb 18 March 1999 vol 327 cc1242-3
2. Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

If he will make a statement on measures to tackle the backlog in the school building programme. [75575]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Charles Clarke)

The Government have made significant extra resources available to help local authorities and school governing bodies tackle the backlog in the school building programme. In July 1997, we introduced the £1.085 billion new deal for schools. The comprehensive spending review has provided an additional £1.5 billion for schools capital, and a further £660 million to support private finance initiative projects. In total, we estimate that some £5.4 billion will be available for investment in school buildings over the next three years. In respect of this year's new deal for schools round, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State hopes to be able to announce the outcomes before Easter.

Dr. Turner

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Having seen the backlog build up in Norfolk over 20 years, I appreciate the Government's making that matter a priority. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that, as we enter the next millennium, our teachers should feel that their workplaces are suitable for it? The bids received by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will include many categories, but does my hon. Friend agree that we have been making do with mobile classrooms in Norfolk for far too long? He will be aware that, at Smithdon county high school in Hunstanton, far too many teachers have had mobile classrooms as their workplace for far too long. Will he ensure that careful consideration—and, it is to be hoped, a positive answer—are given to the part of the £32 million bid for the county of Norfolk that relates to that problem?

Mr. Clarke

My right hon. Friend will have heard my hon. Friend's reference to the school in Hunstanton. I acknowledge that standards are driven up by good-quality provision of school building and that teachers need to be able to teach in good, healthy working environments. We inherited a substantial backlog from the previous Government and we are now investing at a much higher level than they ever did; by the end of this Parliament, we shall be investing twice as much every year as they invested in any year during which they were in power.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim)

The additional money for education is appreciated throughout the United Kingdom. Does the Minister agree that many public bodies, including education authorities, own a great deal of property and assets which are underused and could be sold to raise funds? Will he encourage the raising of money to be reinvested in new building and to upgrade the school estate?

Mr. Clarke

I agree with the hon. Gentleman; that is why we are encouraging local education authorities to develop asset management plans in which they consider all the schools in their area and make a planned assessment of the maintenance, replacement and new investment that is needed for each school. Those plans will set out locally agreed priorities for capital expenditure and the approach proposed for tackling them. For that reason, we are holding consultations on the overall capital strategy and have provided a small amount to help local education authorities to develop those plans. We believe that that will lead to rational decisions on resources and better value for money for the teachers and pupils in the constituencies that we all represent.

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