Outwardly, one has to be pleased that the schools budget has been protected in this year’s spending review.
And Danny Alexander’s five-year plan for infrastructure is welcome.
Continuing investment in education is crucial firstly because of huge demand for new school places and the extent of backlog maintenance of the school estate.
Children’s life chances are at stake, leaving aside investing to improve standards and, ultimately, education’s contribution to our global competitiveness. Secondly, this stimulus is what the construction industry needs to generate jobs and invigorate local economies; an immediate and much-needed engine for growth.
Is it enough? The short answer is no, not nearly.
The announcement of £10 billion for schools maintenance enables only 150 schools to be tackled by 2017.
Accelerating the Priority Schools Building Programme – if it can be done; progress to date has been slow – accounts for only 261 projects. There are 24,372 schools in England. At this rate, we are falling behind fast.
Is it real money? The £21bn investment announced is an aspirational plan for 2015 onwards; that is, after the next election, potentially for a different government to implement.
It is not a commitment, let alone a green light for real projects. Most of it has been announced before – it is not additional money.
In fact, a ‘flat’ allocation of £4.6bn in the spending review represents a real-terms inflationary cut of 1.7 per cent. The planned catalyst for investment without stretching the public purse was PF2, to be used for the 261 schools in PSBP. Sadly this seems to be foundering on lack of market interest in financing the debt.
So, yes, we should be pleased there is a market. Is it enough for the economy, the construction industry, jobs and – most importantly – children’s futures? Sadly, no.
Michael Buchanan is education director for Galliford Try