Investing in education

QUB-library New facilities for learning have gone ahead at colleges, universities and libraries but progress has been held up by reduced capital receipts. Detailed information for schools was unavailable.

The Investment Strategy’s skills pillar covers education in its widest sense, broken down into three funding categories:

• Schools and youth services (from the Department of Education);

• Further and higher education (from the Department for Employment and Learning); and

• Libraries (from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure).

Post-primary schools were to receive 77.4 per cent of the schools and youth services package (£555.5 million). Primary, nursery and special schools came second with a 17.9 per cent total allocation (£128.5 million). Despite its mention in the title, youth services received just 2.1 per cent (£15 million).

The remaining £19 million was shared out between early years work and other areas such as the Middletown Centre for Autism and ICT.

agendaNi asked the Department of Education which projects had been completed in each financial year and reasons for any delays. However, the department had not responded by the time of going to press. Strategic Investment Board figures indicate that £447.5 million was spent in the schools and youth services sub-pillar in 2008- 2009 and 2009-2010 combined.

Further and higher

The Department for Employment and Learning was allocated £141.5 million, almost all of which (£138.9 million) was for further and higher education.

Higher education’s capital budget for that period (£64.04 million) was revised down to £54.18 million in the Executive’s revised spending plans, published in January. The department expects the full amount to be totally spent by 31 March 2011.

Funds were distributed in capital grants to the four higher education institutions – Queen’s, the University of Ulster and the two teaching colleges – for projects managed by them. DEL does not fund any project 100 per cent but expects all approved projects to be delivered by the end of this year.

Two projects did not go ahead due to funding cuts: the Sports Centre at the University of Ulster’s Coleraine campus and the refurbishment of the Ashby Building at Queen’s University. These may be taken forward by the universities from their own resources or if sufficient capital becomes available from 2011- 2012 onwards.

Further education had a £74.85 million allocated, including £10 million expected from the sale of the Northern Regional College’s Felden campus. However, this has not yet been sold due to a delay in the completion of replacement accommodation at the Newtownabbey campus. The Felden site will become surplus on 31 December 2010 and the department anticipates that it will be put up for sale in 2011.

That delay brings the FE capital budget down to £64.85 million. To date, £56.3 million has been spent, leaving a remainder of £8.5 million. No cost overruns have taken place. The following projects have progressed:

• Fermanagh, South West College (completed);

• Newtownabbey, Northern Regional College (completed);

• Strand Road (Derry), North West Regional College (to be completed in 2010-2011);

• Downpatrick, Ballynahinch and Newcastle (PPP), Lisburn (PPP) and Newtownards, in the South Eastern Regional College (all construction to finish in 2010-2011);

• Titanic Quarter (PPP) and Springvale, Belfast Metropolitan College (both due for completion in 2011-2012); and

• small projects for health and safety, disabled access and minor works.

Five projects have not been takenforward, all due to lack of available funding:

• Bangor, South Eastern Regional College;

• Antrim, Northern Regional College;

• Clondermott (in Derry), North West Regional College;

• Armagh, Southern Regional College;

• Causeway (site not decided), Northern Regional College.

“There are now no dates set for the completion of any of these projects,” a DEL spokesman confirmed.

Libraries

The £31.6 million set aside for libraries was “unrealistic” in 2008-2011, Libraries NI admits. That figure was produced by DCAL and was based on estimates provided by the five education and library boards. When the new authority was set up in April 2009, it found that “the necessary planning and preparation had not been done to enable this level of investment to be realised within the timescale specified.”

Instead, £8.8 million had been spent up to 11 November 2010.

The £10 million expected from property disposals up to 2018 was also over- optimistic. Receipts have totalled just £451,000 to date.

“Changes in the property market have meant that some sites have sold for considerably less than was previously

estimated, and a number of sites are still on the market,” a spokeswoman explained.

The Carrickfergus project was to be completed in 2009-2010 but the strategic case was reviewed when Libraries NI was established; it is currently on target for completion in February 2011.

Likewise, the Newtownards new build was to be finished in 2011-2012 but has been pushed back to 2012-2013 after its original business case was rejected by DCAL. Libraries NI is developing this as a joint venture with Ards Borough Council on a different site, subject to funding.

Kilkeel, due for completion in 2010-2011, has been delayed due to “procurement and planning issues”. Fivemiletown is on hold, pending a strategic review of library provision across Northern Ireland. “Procurement issues” have also delayed the planned vehicle replacement.

Overall investment plans

Sub-pillar 2008-2011 (£m)
Schools and youth services

718.0

Department for Employment and Learning 141.5
Libraries 31.6
Skills 891.1

Library projects

Location Status Anticipated cost
(£M)
Final cost
(£M)
Antrim Completed 2.92 2.7
Dungiven Completed 1.0 1.27
Carrickfergus Construction 1.0 0.95
Libraries NI (set-up) Completed 1.0 0.69
Newtownstewart Completed 0.5 0.535
Whitehead Completed 0.32 0.374
Newtownards Development 3.3 n.a.
Kilkeel Development 1.1 n.a.
Fivemiletown On hold 1.0 n.a.
Vehicle replacement Procurement 0.46 n.a.

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