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Monday, 28 July 2014

Three-year wait for new school

COUNCILLORS are being urged not to rest on their laurels following the success of the bid to win Government funding to rebuild crumbling Prudhoe High School.

For work on the new school is not scheduled to start for at least three years – and the problems at the 1950s building are getting worse.

At the latest meeting of Northumberland County Council, Coun. Mrs Anne Dale, of Stocksfield, sought assurances that Prudhoe would still be maintained in the interim.

She said: “A lot of children will still be going to that school for their education over the next four years and we have to make sure the site remains safe for them to use and provides an acceptable learning environment.

“I would hate to think that because the new school is in the pipeline, it will be left to its own devices.”

The case for a rebuild at Prudhoe was taken up personally by education secretary Michael Gove.

Prudhoe High was one of three Northumberland schools included in the successful national Private Finance Initiative bid for Government funding, along with Alnwick and Bedlington high schools.

However, it has now been confirmed that work on Prudhoe will not take place until after the other two.

The council’s executive was told on Monday that a briefing had taken place with the other two headteachers, but Prudhoe was not included in the meeting.

Councillors were told: “Prudhoe Community High School was not invited as it is to be included in a later batch of work.

“We have been notified that work will not start at Prudhoe until the second quarter of 2015.”

However, it is already clear that while the actual bricks and mortar of the new schools will be covered by the PFI, the schools themselves will still be left with significant bills to pick up.

The PFI agreement between the Secretary of State for Education and the individual boards of governors of the schools does not cover the costs of IT servers and equipment, furniture, fixtures, fittings and equipment.

Nor will it cover the costs of decanting the existing schools’ resources, IT equipment and furniture into the new school building.

There is no central Government funding to cover the costs of off-site highways works either, or for the demolition of existing buildings.

Prudhoe’s Coun. Neil Bradbury said it was “a shame” that Prudhoe was not included in the first phase of work.

He said: “We are still a fair distance away from 2015 and the situation at Prudhoe High is not brilliant.”

Executive member for corporate resources Coun. Andrew Tebbutt said that ways would be found to help the three schools make good any shortfall on the rebuilding programmes.

He added: “We have to be very robust in making sure we get value for money; we have to make sure we don’t fork out a lot of money to repay the PFI providers.”

Education spokesman Coun. Mrs Lesley Rickerby added: “We can go a long way to ensuring the totality of the projects, but we are not going to spend a lot of money which is not needed.

“We are not going to over-egg the pudding.”

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