Reacting to the Government decision to halt the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme Liberal Democrats in Brent have slammed the previous Labour Government for writing cheques they could not honour.
Labour Treasury minister, Liam Byrne was recently criticised for joking about the seriousness of the county’s situation. Mr Byrne left a note to his successor saying, “Dear chief secretary, I’m afraid there is no money. Kind regards – and good luck! Liam“.
BSF building projects already under way will be completed. The remainder of the programme, which would have cost around £5 billion in total, will be halted and reviewed, though another 500 BSF schemes, where work is at advanced stage, will carry on. Brent Council had applied for BSF funding prior to 2006 and again in 2008, but was refused. The Council was only allowed into the BSF programme in late 2009. Brent’s projects have not reached the stage where building contracts have been let so they will be put back into the review.
The move comes after the former Labour Government’s cancellation of the “Building Colleges for the Future” programme when it was found there was not enough money for most of what had been promised (1). In 2008 the £2.3 billion Building Colleges for the Future scheme was suspended because of “catastrophic” mismanagement of the programme. This led to around 150 colleges, including Brent’s College of North West London, having to put construction projects on hold.
In Brent Alperton Community School, Cardinal Hinsley Mathematics and Computing College, Copland Specialist Science Community College and Queens Park Community School were all promised BSF funding. Former Labour education minister – and now Labour leadership contender – Ed Balls featured in press releases as far back as November 2009, 6 months before the elections, holding up giant cheque for £80m signed by “The Labour Party” – but despite Council requests the money never materialised: it is now clear that it was never there. At the same time Chancellor Alistair Darling was making his budget sums add up by forecasting a cut in capital expenditure of one third (from £69bn to £46bn). Liberal Democrats say Labour was promising more money than the country could afford.
The Coalition Government’s review will scale back building plans, giving priority to providing extra school places in areas of shortage and to rebuilding schools whose buildings are in the worst condition. Liberal Democrats are saying that whatever new programme emerges it is vital it is much less bureaucratic than the BSF programme. Councils and schools in BSF wasted a lot of money jumping through pointless hoops which could have been spent on education instead.
Speaking about the news, Cllr Paul Lorber slammed Labour, saying,
“Labour led many colleges on with their failed Building Colleges for the Future programme, now we find out they’ve done it to schools too. Labour promised money that was never there, strung schools along and caused many councils to waste money on architects and other professionals.
Everyone remembers the Building Colleges for the Future debacle. Colleges – like CNWL, still in the papers locally – were promised money and were left in the lurch. It was hugely deceptive of Labour to promise everybody money when Alistair Darling’s last budget was proposing to cut capital spending by a third. There was just no way Labour could afford everything they had promised. It was unfortunately nothing more than a cynical attempt to get re-elected.
The coalition government has set out a sensible, open budget which is above all things honest – unlike Labour’s spending promises.”
Local resident Bob Wharton added,
“BSF had the wrong priorities. It gave priority to local authorities with the worst school results in the belief that if you rebuilt the school the pupils would learn better. Brent has good GCSE results and was therefore left to the back of the queue, despite having a shortage of school places and crumbling buildings. The coalition government plans to use the remaining money to give priority to areas with shortages of places and the worst buildings. Brent will have a good case to make in the review. I am, however, sorry for all the school staff who have put so much effort into the doomed BSF scheme.”
More on the Building Colleges for the Future fund is here.