Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Get Your Bids in for a Piece of Pounds 40bn Pie, Clegg Urges: News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Get Your Bids in for a Piece of Pounds 40bn Pie, Clegg Urges: News

Article excerpt

Deputy prime minister says fund could support building projects.

The deputy prime minister has urged schools to bid for Pounds 40 billion in government-backed loans to kick-start their stalled rebuilding and refurbishment projects.

The money is in the form of Treasury guarantees, which were originally billed as being on offer only to significant infrastructure projects such as major new roads or utilities schemes. But Nick Clegg has called on schools and local authorities to apply if they have stalled capital projects that require extra funding.

"An impression has been given that those Pounds 40 billion worth of guarantees are only available for huge, whopping great big transport infrastructure projects of national significance," Mr Clegg told TES. "Let me be very clear, we are being much more flexible than that and we are open to ideas.

"There is real potential for people in the education sector who are looking for capital, who maybe have a capital project and are nearly over the line but for whom just lowering the financing costs would make a big difference, to apply to the Treasury."

In an exclusive interview with TES, the Liberal Democrat leader acknowledged the difficulty schools are facing when it comes to capital. Schools have been forced to bear the brunt of government cuts to their capital budgets, with 60 per cent of the Department for Education's overall capital budget cut in 2010 - something Mr Clegg described as "regrettable" but unavoidable.

His comments come as the government's new Priority School Building Programme is struggling to get off the ground due to a lack of private investment needed to fund the 219 schools earmarked to be rebuilt and refurbished.

The UK guarantees policy was announced by Chancellor George Osborne last summer, who said the programme was only feasible because of the government's fiscal credibility "earned through (its approach to) tackling the deficit". Although the Treasury has said that projects must be of "national significance" to be successful, the government will acknowledge "exceptional projects" on a case-by-case basis.

While capital spending was hit in an emergency budget in 2010, Mr Clegg was at pains to point out that he had "intervened very forcefully" to protect per-pupil spending. Schools will be hoping he can do the same after fresh calls this week for the DfE to shoulder some of the burden as Mr Osborne looks to save a further Pounds 10 billion.

Stephen Twigg, Labour's shadow education secretary, described Mr Clegg's move over the Pounds 40bn fund as "pretty desperate stuff". …

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