Dismay over school building spend

 

The construction industry and the Opposition have expressed dismay at new figures which show the Department of Education has yet to spend almost half of its 2010 capital budget for school buildings.

In all, some €331 million of the 2010 school building budget has still to be allocated; the second year in succession the department has failed to spend its full allocation in this area.

Unused funding is generally returned to the Department of Finance at the end of each year.

The figures were revealed as the department prepares to unveil over €230 million in education cuts. These will see increased tuition charges at third level, cuts in special needs assistants and larger class sizes.

Responding to the figures the construction industry said it was startled by the department's failure to invest, despite the unemployment crisis in the Irish economy and the deficit in school infrastructure.

The department has said its failure to spend can be explained by falling tender prices.

Today, Construction Industry Federation director general Tom Parlon said the failure to spend the allocated money had cost significant jobs in construction and represented a major blow to the local economies that were to benefit from Government's investment.

“The excuse that this relates to reduced tender prices is very disingenuous. Reduced tender prices have already been factored into the Government's investment allocations.

“Is the department trying to imply that it has addressed all of the country's school building problems and therefore there is no need to spend any more?

I would imagine that communities that have been on waiting lists for up to 10 years for school upgrades will take particular issue with such as suggestion.”

Fine Gael education spokesman, Fergus O'Dowd said the failure to spend the allocated funds reflected “either gross incompetence or political chicanery by the Government”.

"There is no good reason for 50 per cent of the school building budget to go unspent with only eight weeks left in the year”.

He said children are continuing to suffer in prefabs and overcrowded classrooms because of the under spending.

“The excuses from the minster and the department are complete nonsense. The construction industry has the capacity to provide new buildings.

Prices have fallen massively and the department continues to say that there is no problem in providing the funds for such buildings. Yet, these buildings continue to languish on planning applications instead of being constructed. This is simply not good enough.”