New schools for the future

THE dire state of public finances left the Government with little alternative last year than to scrap Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme.

But the move – made in the first months of the new administration as it sought to prove its credentials for sound finance – was handled disastrously, provoking outrage across the country as schemes worth about £1bn in Yorkshire were axed.

Ministers have instead invited bids for a programme to rebuild and replace the most dilapidated schools which have deteriorated so much that staff report disruption caused by the condition of buildings as simply part of the school day.

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Bids worth more than £200m are being submitted from schools in the region, many of which missed out last time.

It would be a terrible blow for them to suffer a second rejection – but there must be real doubts that the planned programme, worth £3bn nationally, will be sufficient to meet the demands on it.

Ministers again came under fire yesterday from Labour for their failure to set out a growth programme to give a boost to the stagnating economy but they could counter those claims through the rebuilding project which offers an ideal opportunity for the Government to consider wider needs of the country.

An expanded programme would give a much-needed boost to the hard-pressed construction sector, as well as building schools to meet the needs of 21st century education.

But there must be serious concerns at the same time that the venture will continue to use the much-criticised private finance initiative.

Indeed all the primary schools in Bradford which have met the criteria for the scheme have refused to bid because they cannot afford the repayments.

The Government must consider re-thinking using the initiative which it is becoming abundantly clear – if it was not already – does not offer good value for taxpayers’ money.

Otherwise staff and pupils in crumbling schools, will continue to struggle on in premises which are simply not fit for the task of educating youngsters.

It is a big call for Ministers – but it is the right one.