I would like to update the House on my Department’s work to address the shortage in pupil places being experienced by some local authorities, and reduce the level of prescription and unnecessary guidance which are a feature of the school premises regulations and hamper the development of new schools.
I would also like to inform members of my final decisions on the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in the six authorities which mounted Judicial Reviews.
In July, I announced that an extra £500 million would be made available, this year, to local authorities experiencing the greatest need in managing shortfalls in providing pupil places. This additional funding has been made available from efficiencies and savings identified in BSF projects that are continuing.
I can announce today that over one hundred local authorities will receive a share of the funding. The allocations have been calculated using figures provided to the Department for Education by local authorities through the 2011 School Capacity and Forecast Information returns. By using the most up-to-date information available we are making sure the savings identified are being targeted to local authorities experiencing the most severe need.
I understand the economic situation means difficult choices need to be made about how to direct funding but I urge local authorities to target resources at managing the shortfalls in pupils places wherever they are most needed, and taking into account of the views of parents. This is especially pertinent in light of the data released last week by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing that previous projections for population growth were underestimated and by 2020 there will be around 21 per cent more primary age children than in 2010.
Today’s extra funding means that in 2011-12, a total of £1.3 billion will have been allocated to fund additional school places. The Government already announced an allocation of £800 million funding in December 2010, twice the previous annual level of support. The nature of this funding, (capital grant which is not ring fenced) the nature of the projects it will fund, (mainly small primary school projects) and the readiness of local authorities to get projects underway mean that this money will be spent efficiently. Further, I expect much of it to benefit small and medium-sized enterprises and to stimulate local economic activity across the country.
I would like to reassure those local authorities whose needs were not as severe as others - and which, therefore, did not receive a share of this extra £500 million - that future capital allocations for basic need and maintenance pressures will be announced later in the year.
I am also launching a twelve week consultation on the revision of school premises regulations. The consultation document sets out how the Government intends to deregulate and end the confusion and unnecessary bureaucracy surrounding the current requirements. A copy of the consultation document will be placed in the House Libraries.
I am proposing to make the requirements for independent and maintained schools identical and to reduce the overall number of regulations. Some regulations are duplicated in other pieces of legislation or are simply unnecessary and I propose to remove these regulations completely. I also think that other regulations can be simplified to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and make requirements proportionate, without reducing the quality of buildings. I would welcome views on my proposals, further details of which can be found on the Department for Education’s website.
Finally, today I am announcing my decision on the schools that are subject to the BSF Judicial Review proceedings, brought by Luton Borough Council; Nottingham City Council; Waltham Forest London Borough Council; Newham London Borough Council; Kent County Council; and Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council.
I announced what I was minded to do in July and have received further representations from each of the claimant authorities. I considered these carefully but I am not persuaded that I should depart from the decision which I announced I was minded to take. My final decision is, therefore, not to fund the schools in the claim but, instead, to fund, in capital grant, the value of the claimant authorities proven contractual liabilities.
Further information on all aspects of today’s announcements, including a complete list of local authorities receiving extra funding for shortfalls in pupil places, can be found online.