Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Schools Building Projects.
Question 103: To ask the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the level of capital spending available within his Department in 2009 for the schools building and modernisation programme. [38361/08]
The National Development Plan 2007-2013 provides for almost €4.5 billion for the school building programme. The allocation for school building in 2009 is €581 million. This represents a significant investment in the school building and modernisation programme.
The Deputy will appreciate that the climate within which the 2009 budget has been framed is different from that of recent years. The Government has been faced with difficult choices across all areas of public spending. This level of funding for the building programme, at a time of great pressure on public finances, is significant.
This investment will build on the achievements of the previous National Development Plan 2000-2006, when an aggregate total of more than €2.6 billion was invested in upgrading the existing school infrastructure and providing new school accommodation at first and second level. This programme which delivered more than 7,800 building projects also provided for investment in site purchases, the annual minor works grant to all primary schools, the asbestos and radon remediation programmes, science and technology initiatives, emergency works and grants for the purchase of furniture and equipment.
Innovations in the delivery of school buildings such as the development of generic repeat designs and the use of the design and build model ensure that new school buildings are delivered in the fastest timeframe possible. My Department also adopted a policy of devolving much greater authority to local school management boards to manage and deliver smaller building projects, thus freeing up my Department to concentrate on the larger scale projects. This has facilitated the completion of 3,000 projects, costing more than €300 million, under the summer works scheme and more than 700 projects under the small schools and permanent accommodation schemes.
Value for money is a key criterion in the implementation of the school building programme and competitive tendering, in line with public procurement procedures, ensures that this is achieved. As I have indicated publicly, the current decline in activity in the construction industry provides an opportunity for my Department to continue to pursue value for money in the procurement and construction of school buildings.
The allocation for 2009 will allow my Department to complete 26 major projects and commence construction on another 62 major projects. It will permit completion of 100 smaller projects on-site and allow another 80 projects previously approved to progress to completion as well as funding the other elements of the programme, such as the annual minor works grant, site purchases, emergency works etc. It is also my intention to have a summer works scheme in 2009. Provision has also been made in the capital allocation for the continuation of my Department's public private partnership programme.
The spin from the Minister and his Department since the announcement of the budget is that the capital expenditure in terms of the school building and modernisation programme has dramatically improved in 2009. Will the Minister confirm that the funding allocation for 2009, at €581 million, is less than the €586 million in 2008?
Will the Minister tell the House how many of the announcements made in the latter part of this year relating to school buildings will see funding provided in the 2009 Estimate? The vast majority of the projects recently announced have not yet started construction but how many will be funded by next year's expenditure?
I guarantee that some of the projects, as such, went back out for tendering because I wanted to get better value for money. Some of the projects will be paid from the 2008 figure. The Deputy will be delighted to hear I am getting back tenders that are 15% and 20% less than they were when previously tendered. I insisted re-tendering take place in order for us to get value for money for the projects on hand.
If the Deputy read my speech last week he knows I clearly indicated we are €5 million short on last year's figure. I will get much more value and deliver more projects on the basis of the competitive tenders we will get during the course of 2009. I am satisfied that will happen.
When will the Minister revert to an initiative taken by a former Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey? He had a very accountable and transparent initiative where schools knew exactly where they stood on the list. That initiative was put to one side by the Minister's immediate predecessor, Deputy Mary Hanafin, and it has not yet been reinstated. When will schools know exactly where they stand on this list rather than having to wait for the wink and nod which comes from the local Fianna Fáil Deputy and which eventually comes through the Minister? When will schools be told the truth as to when it is likely their projects will be advanced, as against the Tammany Hall politics played by the Minister and his party over the past number of years?
If the Deputy went to the trouble of looking at exactly what happens within the Department, he would have been assured and seen evidence that every project gets a band rating, going from band 1 to band 5. Band 1 means a project is a priority.
I want to be clear on this. We have a website that is being updated at the moment and I have instructed my officials that when the website is up and running properly, all of the data on schools and their band rating should be put on the website. I hope the website will be in place properly before the end of the year, and that the data which the Deputy requires and is anxious to receive will be on it.
With regard to the great new initiative regarding value for money, will the Minister accept that with the 14 schools currently on his tender list — they have planning permission and tenders and are ready to go when the Minister gives the go-ahead — some €4.6 million has been spent on design fees? Does the Minister regard that as value for money when €4.6 million has been spent by those 14 schools without one block, building or extension going up? Is that value for money?