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CAPITAL FUNDS CALL FOR SCHOOLS

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Flexible use of cash could benefit community...
Flexible use of cash could benefit community

By Nick Golding

Education and children's services experts are calling for capital funds to be included in local area agreements, to allow the construction of innovative school buildings.

Experts claim joined-up working between councils and other public bodies on schools building, as well as between council departments, could result in schools incorporating libraries, health centres or local police offices.

But the agreements, which are supposed to revolutionise co-operation at a local level, offer little scope for such projects to succeed because they concentrate on revenue, not capital expenditure.

David Hawker, chairman of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, called for the agreements to give more control over the use of capital money locally.

'The message is central government needs to trust local government more to use money in pursuit of a shared agenda,' he said.

'Local area agreements mean we cannot switch between capital and revenue. That's a weakness in terms of trying to be flexible about the use of different capital revenue streams.'

Chris Waterman, author of The Plain Guide to the Children Act 2004, agreed the co-operation required by the act should extend to capital projects.

He said: 'If you look at other facilities a local area might need, how many of these could be located either in one building or on one site?

'You want to make the Department of Health, the Department for Education & Skills and the Home Office co-ordinate their capital programmes with reference to the community use of buildings.'

But even within councils, too few officers see the possibilities available for economies of scale, he added. For instance, grouping school and library facilities in the same building would result in huge economies of scale because only one construction project would be required.

Mr Waterman suggested councils could reduce the cost of implementing the government's Food in Schools initiative by using school kitchens to cater for pensioners.

Police, planning officers and district nurses could also have offices in school buildings.

nick.golding@emap.com

New schools

With radical, local area agreement-style co-operation on capital spending, new-build schools could contain:

>> Pensioners' luncheon clubs

>> Village shops or post offices

>> Practice nurses

>> Childcare centres

>> Local offices for police or council officials.

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