27 June 2016
Article by Michael Dauncey National Assembly for Wales Research Service
A ‘Short Debate’ on the Welsh Government’s programme to invest in major school building and refurbishment projects will take place in Plenary on Wednesday (29 June 2016).
This is being led by Rhianon Passmore AM who has chosen the following title for her Short Debate: ‘21st Century Schools: More than a building programme’. The Short Debate gives an opportunity to a non-government Member selected by ballot to hold a debate on a topic of their choice. The debate does not include a motion or a vote.
Through the 21st Century Schools Programme, the Welsh Government plans to invest £700 million between 2014-15 and 2018-19 (‘Band A’). Match-funded by local authorities, this would result in £1.4 billion capital investment in schools and colleges in Wales, supporting 150 projects across all local authority areas by April 2019.
Local authorities’ match funding
Local authorities are required to contribute 50% of the costs although they may use the Local Government Borrowing initiative to help finance this. The Fourth Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee asked the Welsh Government about affordability during an era of pressure on county hall budgets. The then Minister, Huw Lewis, said in November 2014 (PDF 119KB):
‘Consideration of the ability of the Local Authority to match fund is a key element of our scrutiny process. All projects are approved subject to the receipt of a satisfactory Business Case, which must demonstrate that match funding is available and identify of the sources of this funding. (…)
Regular meetings are held with local authorities which include delivery timetables and affordability. These discussions include the local authorities’ continuing ability to fund the match funding requirements of both individual projects within the programme as well as match funding the entire programme.’
Transitional funding 2009-2014
21st Century Schools replaced the former School Building Improvement Grant (SBIG). The programme formally started in 2014-15, although transitional funding was provided from 2009, from which point local authorities began developing 21st Century Schools proposals.
The Welsh Government provided transitional funding in between the two programmes. The first tranche of transitional funding supported 32 projects across Wales at a value of over £77 million. The Welsh Government reported in its Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan (WIIP) (May 2012) that these projects were largely completed. Under two subsequent tranches of transitional funding, the Welsh Government allocated over £337 million to a further 34 projects. These were listed in an annex to a Cabinet statement on 13 July 2011.
Band A of the programme: 2014-15 to 2018-19
The Welsh Government announced details of the first allocations (Band A) to 21st Century Schools in a Cabinet statement on 5 December 2011. Details of some of these projects were not fully published at the time as local authorities were developing the specific detail of proposals on a confidential basis with the Welsh Government. This was to avoid potential unnecessary speculation over projects which may not receive funding and never actually go ahead. Some of the projects were therefore given general titles. At the time, BBC online produced a summary of the proposals that had been approved.
The Welsh Government includes information about progress of 21st Century Schools in its annual update on the WIIP. In June 2015 (pages 24-25), the Welsh Government reported:
‘Since we published the Wales Infrastructure Investment Plan in 2012, we have invested £441 million through our core budget in support of delivering the overall target that 150 schools and colleges are refurbished or rebuilt over the lifetime of the 21st Century Schools Programme.’
A more strategic approach
21st Century Schools aims to be more strategic than previous programmes. The Welsh Government summarised in its original WIIP in June 2012 (para 2.8.3), that ‘the aim is to have the right provision in the right place at the right cost’:
‘Until 2007, investment in education was largely based on a sectoral and formulaic process made on a financial year basis. Since 2009 a process of transitional funding has been implemented to prepare the system for an all-Wales programme of investment in both schools and further education institutions that is prioritised and strategic.’
The Welsh Government’s 21st Century Schools website provides further information on the programme and the approach to developing proposals and allocating funding. The Better Business Case – five case model is used which means that proposals must have a strategic, economic, commercial, financial and management case.
Progress update, January 2016
In January 2016, the then Minister, Huw Lewis, gave an update during scrutiny of the 2016-17 draft budget (PDF 1.20MB) (paras 161-168). He confirmed the Welsh Government’s overall target is for 150 schools and colleges to be refurbished or rebuilt by the end of April 2019. He also said that, as of December 2015:
‘Approval has been received for 86 Business Justification Cases / Full Business Cases, which represents 57% of the overall [Band A target]. Construction is underway on 44 projects, representing 29% of the programme target. 20 projects have been completed to date, which is 13% of the programme target.’
Annual budget allocation
The Welsh Government’s budget for 21st Century Schools was £131 million in 2015-16. In the 2016-17 draft budget this was £123 million, although an additional £10 million was allocated in the final budget for the post-16 element of the programme. The amount budgeted by the Welsh Government in 2016-17 is therefore £133 million.