Wednesday, 6 February 2008
Pat Gallagher (Minister of State, Department of Health and Children; Donegal South West, Fianna Fail)
I apologise on behalf of the Minister for Education and Science who is unable to be with us this evening. I thank Senator Doherty for raising the matter as it provides me, on behalf of the Minister, with the opportunity to outline the Government's strategy for capital investment in education projects and to outline the current position on the 2008 summer works scheme.
At the outset, as a public representative from the constituency of Donegal South-West where Senator Doherty is based, I am familiar with the success of this scheme, not only in Donegal but throughout the country. I wish to pay tribute to the many boards of management who have carried out the works on a devolved basis. That has ensured the fast-tracking of works which, if they were to be carried out in the normal way, might have taken much longer.
Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task given the legacy of decades of under-investment in this area as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. None the less, the Government is committed to improving the condition of our school buildings and to ensuring the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum.
The Government has dramatically increased investment in the school building programme from just more than €90 million ten years ago to more than €600 million this year. In the lifetime of the national development plan almost €4.5 billion will be invested in schools. This is an unprecedented level of capital investment which reflects the commitment of the Government to continue its programme of sustained investment in primary and post-primary schools.
On the specific issue raised, the summer works scheme, Senator Doherty will be aware that this scheme was introduced in 2004. Since its inception, 3,000 projects costing in excess of €300 million have been completed. With so many small projects having been completed in the past few years, the concentration is on delivering as many large-scale projects as possible in 2008. There is not, therefore, a summer works scheme as part of our building programme for this year.
On the issue of fees incurred by schools which applied for the summer works scheme this year, I assume Senator Doherty is referring to consultants' fees. The Minister has asked me to point out that the circular letter for the summer works scheme states, under item six, technical issues, "The appointment of a Consultant is a matter for the school authority and any fees arising must be borne by it." Any consultant's report completed this year may be submitted by the school authority under any future works scheme for consideration.
As a Deputy for the constituency, I will prevail on the Minister and the Government to reintroduce this scheme. I realise there are many schools that have applied and will apply in the future, and these developments are necessary. I again thank Senator Doherty for affording me the opportunity to outline to the House the current position on the summer works scheme 2008.