HC Deb 15 January 2004 vol 416 cc955-6
11. Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab)

What support he gives to local education authorities which face a shortfall in insurance payments to cover the cost of the replacement of school buildings after fire damage. [147876]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

Authorities and schools are expected to take out adequate insurance for their school buildings, in accordance with good practice. Significant capital resources are allocated by formula to all authorities, enabling them to respond to the needs of their schools according to their priorities, including the covering of emergencies. Therefore, we generally do not provide exceptional capital support to local authorities to meet the costs of fire damage.

Colin Burgon

My question comes about as a result of the experiences of Brigshaw high school, which is in my constituency. At Christmas, the gymnasium block burned down—I am glad to say that it was an accident—but in April 2000 virtually the entire school burned down. The Government and Leeds city council came together efficiently to ensure that the building work, costing some £8 million, went ahead. Under the leadership of their head teacher, Peter Laurence, the staff responded brilliantly to the crisis. Will the Minister assure me that he will give the school the same help and support through this current difficult period?

Mr. Twigg

I am aware of the tragic circumstances at Brigshaw high school that my hon. Friend describes. I am certainly happy to give him a commitment that we will work with Education Leeds to ensure that the school can be rebuilt as soon as possible; I know that considerable damage has been caused on this occasion. Our preference is very much that these matters be dealt with at local level. We have increased fivefold the availability of capital funds to local authorities in the past six years. We hope that, in the first place, Education Leeds will work closely with the school and with my hon. Friend to bring about its rebuilding.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)

While we are on the subject of support to local education authorities, given that an LEA thinks that it is doing well if 87 per cent. of its budget is passed on to schools and only 13 per cent. kept back, which in the case of Norfolk still means that more than £50 million is kept back—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has wasted a supplementary; the question is about insurance.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab)

In view of the huge chaos caused by fires in schools and especially in the light of the fact that the cost of fitting sprinklers and other fire protection systems can be greatly offset against the reduction in insurance premiums, should we not make it mandatory, or give strong encouragement, for all schools, in new build and in retrospect, to fit sprinkler systems?

Mr. Twigg

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I give him an undertaking that I shall explore what the Department can do to support such common-sense solutions.