Wales' school buildings programme £1.4bn first wave

£1.4bn funding for the first wave of Wales' biggest ever school building programme has been announced.

Half of the money will be supplied by councils in a programme which has been scaled back since being suspended in July because of a lack of funds.

The funding for council priority projects will now take seven years to complete, instead of the original three.

The Welsh government highlighted substantial cuts by the UK government.

The plan involves prioritising projects for "difficult economic times".

Work is due to start later, will be spread over a longer period and councils will be expected to fund a larger contribution than first envisaged.

The initial phase was originally supposed to run over three years but will now stretch to seven.

The announcement means a number of controversial school reorganisation projects will now go ahead:

  • A new £32m super school for pupils aged three to 18 in Llandysul, Ceredigion, is among the contested projects to be given the green light. It was the council's sole bid for funding
  • 25 projects worth £132m have been given the go-ahead in Cardiff, including a new Eastern High School
  • There are 14 rebuilds or refurbishments planned for Swansea
  • Rhondda Cynon Taf was the authority awarded the most money with projects to the value of £160m to be built by 2020.

However, Gwynedd council, which receives £18m towards a £36m programme, has been refused funding for plans for reorganisation of schools in the Eifionydd, Moelwyn, Botwnnog and Dyffryn Ogwen catchment areas.

Councillor Liz Saville-Roberts said they hoped to hold further funding discussions and the bidding round had allowed them to "make a declaration of intent as regards our reorganisation strategy".

The Welsh government said the funding for the 21st Century Schools programme was "realistic" and it still hopes eventually to spend about £4bn.

It said the proposals would address not only poor conditions and surplus capacity but "deliver sustainable, cost-effective schools that are fit for the 21st Century".

Education Minister Leighton Andrews said: "Securing capital investment in these difficult economic times is essential not only for better education outcomes but for the continued support of our construction industry and the growth of our economy."

Peter Fox, education spokesman for the Welsh Local Government Association, said: "This is great news for local government and should be welcomed by learners across Wales.

"Despite the very difficult funding situation, the joint approach to developing this programme has paid off."

Martin Lipson, the former director of the 21st Century Schools programme, said the funding was to be welcomed if councils could find the money they had promised.

"I don't think the councils have got the money that's needed to carry out this programme unfortunately, because the original plan that we conceived was that local authorities would have to find about 30% of the costs of the project, leaving 70% to be found by the Welsh government," he said.

'Difficult financial position'

"I do fear that when it comes to the presentation of their business cases which are needed to draw down the funding, some of them will in fact not be able to find that much money."

David Evans, secretary of NUT Wales, said it recognised the difficult financial position the Welsh government was in as a result of UK government cuts.

However he added: "With that said, we are disappointed at the scaling back of a project that we publicly welcomed and which was overdue.

"We obviously welcome the money that will be spent, but there is no doubt that with such a difference in expenditure between what was originally proposed, and what is to be delivered, the impact that we can expect will not be as radical as hoped at the outset of the project.

"There can be no doubt now, that what will be delivered is a mend and make do programme that will not go far enough and may, in some circumstances, amount to nothing more than a false economy falling far short of the aim to deliver 21st Century schools for this generation of school children."

Repair backlog

Many councils said they had based figures on the local authority's cost being 30%, with the Welsh government funding the remaining 70%.

But a few months ago they were told to increase contributions to 50% and to resubmit proposals accordingly.

More than £415m has already been invested in a precursor initiative, the 21st Century Schools transitional programme, which supported specific capital projects.

Conservative education spokeswoman Angela Burns welcomed the funding to tackle the repair backlog but added: "It is a shame that ministers squandered so much money in good economic times and have now failed to take advantage of other available funding sources to make our school buildings fit for the 21st Century".

She blamed ideology for Welsh Labour ministers failing to support Welsh Conservative public-private partnership plans.

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