Council to foot £50m schools repair bill

Classrooms will have some work carried out. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Classrooms will have some work carried out. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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DILAPIDATED schools are to receive a £30 million cash injection to make them fit for use – but the Capital will still be left with an outstanding school repair bill of nearly £50m.

In total, around £80m needs to be spent on Edinburgh’s clapped-out classrooms, but the council only has £30m in its repair pot, forcing it to draw up a strict priority list of the most needy schools.

The Evening News can reveal some 22 schools, nurseries and other children’s centres have been placed in the urgent priority queue.

They will share a range of expensive repairs from new roofing and ventilation to fire alarm upgrades and double glazing.

Education leader Paul Godzik said their plan is to spend their limited funds “wisely” to achieve the maximum results. But parents and taxpayers are unimpressed, saying the 
authority is counting the cost of years of penny-pinching.

Amanda Campbell, parent council member at Wester Hailes Education Centre, which will share some of the £30m to carry out exterior, lighting and fire alarm repairs, called the new money “fantastic” but said it should have been invested “a long time ago”.

She said: “If they had kept up with the repairs that needed to be done, the school would not be in such a bad state – if something isn’t fixed, it will only get worse. Every repair that needs done gets put off and put off. Obviously it will deteriorate even more.”

The Scottish Government gives schools a rating similar to exams – with “A” grade schools requiring few repairs and those graded “B” deemed “satisfactory” and only showing minor signs of deterioration.

It is hoped the £30m spend will see the targeted schools marked up to B grade status within five years.

Parent and teacher leaders across the Capital agree such a step is crucial to ensuring schools are safe and capable of meeting the demands of the new Curriculum for Excellence.

But amid an ongoing squeeze on budgets, they are alarmed at the remaining £50m bill and whether this will ever be tackled.

Alan McKenzie, acting general secretary at the Scottish Secondary Teachers Association, called the investment a “step change for the better” but warned ignoring some schools all together will result in some classrooms falling into disrepair.

“Instead of fire-fighting, there’s now a system in place which allows the authority to look at schools and get them all up to a critical minimum standard,” he said.

“What is alarming though is that the catch-up figure is as high as it is and I’d have thought parents in Edinburgh will be concerned about that.”

Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green finance spokesman and member of the city’s education committee, said the overall repair bill was the result of “decades of neglect”. He added: “The scale of that funding gap is well 
beyond what the council has put aside for investment.

“As a council, and as a country, we need a full and frank discussion about how we raise the money to pay for the school buildings our children deserve. Continuing to ignore it simply makes the bill bigger.“

‘Future generations will benefit’

EVERYBODY knows that local government finances are being squeezed so the pledge of £30 million is a sign of our determination to improve the quality of our school buildings.

It was clear to me on becoming convener for education, children and families last year that the way in which we maintained our buildings was largely reactive.

However, there was a real appetite at a senior level within the department to change this, so one of the first things I agreed as convener was the most extensive conditions survey ever of our estate. As such we now have a true picture of what is needed to improve our schools and other buildings. Of course that won’t happen overnight, nor do we have the funding to make every building perfect (if we did my job would be very easy!).

What we do have is a plan which will ensure we spend our limited funding wisely and where it is needed most, with a commitment to get every school to at least “condition B” within five years.

The funding will initially look at health and safety improvements and wind and watertight requirements right across the estate, and there is extensive work to be done here. Then work on 15 premises that are rated ‘C’ such as Wester Hailes Education Centre, St John Vianney Primary School and St Cuthbert’s Primary will have substantial upgrades. These major capital works include roofing, replacement windows improved lighting, ventilation and heating.

It should be noted that the vast majority of our schools, nearly 92 per cent, are rated either A or B by the Scottish Government.

In comparison with other local authorities, Edinburgh’s school estate is in a very good condition.

We still have substantial body work to do, we need to investigate how we can provide more revenue funding. But getting all our schools to at least ‘B’ standard is within reach.

I believe our targeted investment approach will ensure that future generations of school children will reap the benefits in years to come.

n Councillor Paul Godzik is the city’s convener for education,

children and families