In tackling the challenges we face on school building I have been determined to use the capital funding at my disposal to best effect, seeking value for money and efficiency from every pound spent. Sebastian James’ review of capital recommended a complete overhaul of the system for allocating capital investment so that we can focus on the repair and refurbishment of schools in the greatest need alongside meeting the pressure for new, good school places.
Over the past two years we have allocated £2.7 billion to local authorities to support the provision of new school places and £2.8 billion for the maintenance of the school estate to meet the needs of maintained schools and academies. Over the spending review period, total capital investment will be over £17 billion.
In addition, last year I invited bids to a new programme from schools in need of urgent repair. 587 schools applied for the programme on the basis of their condition need. Today I can confirm that 261 schools will be rebuilt, or have their condition needs met through the Priority School Building programme (PSBP) and a copy of the list has been placed in the House Libraries. Officials have today written to all schools who applied for the programme to confirm whether their application has been successful. Work will begin immediately and the first schools will be open in 2014.
I recognise that many of the schools that applied to the PSBP and have been unsuccessful will also have significant condition needs. Some of those will have their needs addressed through the other funding we have made available for maintenance. Where that is not the case, I will use the information from the national programme of surveys we are currently conducting to ensure that, subject to funds available in the next spending review period, those schools which need renovation will have their needs addressed as quickly as possible. By next autumn we will have details about the condition of every school in the country. Information on the condition of all schools was last collated centrally in 2005.
I know that many schools will be disappointed not to be included in the programme. We have had to take difficult decisions in order to target spending on those schools that are in the worst condition. In order to ensure that the process was robust and fair, a qualified surveyor has visited every school for which an eligible application was received to verify the condition of the buildings. This was necessary to make sure the schools being taken forward are those with the greatest overall condition need.
The condition need of some schools is so severe that urgent action is necessary. I have decided to make a limited amount of capital grant available to address the needs of the highest priority schools in the programme. 42 schools - those in the very worst condition and all special schools included within the programme - will be taken forward straight away using capital grant. It is right that the condition needs of special schools - where some of our most vulnerable children are educated - are met as quickly as possible.
This limited capital funding has become available by taking a more disciplined approach to managing my department’s capital budgets. Savings have been made by driving down the cost of new schools, shortening procurement times and challenging contractors to look for savings in all areas. These savings mean that more schools will benefit from the programme.
The PSBP will build on the progress we have already made in delivering a more efficient, faster, less bureaucratic approach to building schools. We are determined to reduce the wasteful processes of the past. That is why we have developed new baseline designs which will speed up the process and increase efficiencies and we are reducing the regulations and guidance governing school premises. This will encourage lower-cost build processes to be designed-in from the start.
I have previously expressed my strong support for the government’s agenda on reforming the PFI model and we are working closely with the Treasury to ensure the PSBP is aligned with this model in providing cost effective and more transparent delivery of services. Schools will have greater flexibility with soft facilities management services, such as cleaning, catering, security and some grounds maintenance being managed and controlled by schools themselves.
In addition to targeting spending on those schools which are in the worst condition, my priority in spending capital has been increasing the number of new school places in order to correct previous failures to meet that need. Since announcing the PSBP last July, the government has allocated £1.1 billion in additional funding to address the need for new school places.
Further details on the Priority School Building programme and a list of the schools that will be rebuilt, or have their condition needs met through the programme can be found on the school capital section of the Department for Education’s website.