North East schools may miss out on cash for repairs

Government cash to repair dilapidated North East schools could fail to reach those most in need, the leader of Newcastle City Council has warned

Coun Nick Forbes, leader Newcastle City Council
Coun Nick Forbes, leader Newcastle City Council

Extra money to repair crumbling classrooms could fail to reach North East schools that need it most, the leader of Newcastle City Council has warned.

A further £2bn is to be made available by central government for rebuilding decrepit state schools and academies, continuing an existing £2.4bn programme that is rebuilding more than 200 schools across England.

Schools will be able to apply directly for funding and the intention is to focus on specific building projects, rather than whole-school rebuilding schemes.

But council leader Nick Forbes, who is also vice-chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said that it would work more efficiently if councils were able to work with local schools to decide where the money should be spent.

He said: “Extra money to repair crumbling school buildings is welcome news, but this is a highly centralised programme which could be more efficient if money was paid into a single pot in each area and councils were able to work with local schools and academies to decide priorities.

“There are some schools with significant problems with their buildings and it is vital this money reaches those schools with the greatest need.

“Councils would be able to repair crumbling classrooms more quickly if money was passed straight to local areas rather than disseminated through a national bidding process.”

There are 261 schools scheduled to be rebuilt under the £2.4bn Priority School Building Programme by 2017.

Schools Minister David Laws said the scheme would “look at targeting individual school buildings, as well as whole school rebuilds”.

But Mr Forbes dismissed it as a “drop in the ocean” and said that hundreds of thousands of pupils would still be taught in sub-standard buildings.

“There are primary schools in Newcastle where pupils with special needs are being taught in the school corridors,” added Mr Forbes. “This is unacceptable and sub-standard facilities such as this should be a priority for Government spending.

“But I fear ministers will be tempted to use this pot of funding as a political weapon to win votes in the run up to the election.”

The £2bn announced for upgrading school premises is part of the funding settlement for the six years of the next spending review. It replaced the Building Schools for the Future programme, which was controversially scrapped four years ago by the coalition government.

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