It was entirely predictable that Ealing’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme would come to a crashing halt shortly after the election, see Gazette article here and Ealing Today here. No doubt we will hear lots from Labour about this “Tory cut”. It will all, of course, be total nonsense. In the 2009 Budget Report Alistair Darling signalled a halving, yes halving, of the government’s capital programme from £44 billion to £22 billion per annum from 2009-10 to 2013-14. The idea that BSF would remain intact in the face of that kind of contraction was always a fantasy. If Labour had won the last election it would only have been a matter of time before they were cancelling this programme themselves.
In his budget in June the Tory chancellor George Osbourne said he would not cut capital spending any further than Labour had done already but that the government would review everything. Quite right. The Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was deeply flawed and was, ultimately, a con on the public.
BSF was fearsomely complicated. As Michael Gove said yesterday the programme produced buildings that are three times more expensive than regular commercial buildings and twice as expensive as Irish schools.
BSF made a really dumb pledge to rebuild every secondary school in the country regardless of need. Would it have been sensible to rebuild every road in the country? No. This was quite simply a grand scheme that sounded lovely but was in large part unnecessary. In areas where they got the BSF money early they knocked down perfectly serviceable schools and now some old buildings in other areas will have to wait many years to be refurbished.
It is a shame that no-one is going to be waving a magic wand over our schools anytime soon. The main job for the new administration in Ealing is to lobby for the new school in Greenford as a priority and to get our worst school buildings replaced on a sensible timetable. It is not quite as fancy as spending £300 million that the country hasn’t got but it sounds more like the real world. There will be new schools building programmes in the future but they won’t be as wasteful as BSF.