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£6m bill for crumbling schools data

04/02/14

Inadequate local authority data about the condition of crumbling schools has cost taxpayers £6 million, a watchdog has revealed. That will be the cost of an enormous extra property survey being carried out by the Education Funding Agency (EFA), the National Audit Office (NAO) said.

Ministers have long planned to rejig capital allocation to local authorities on the basis of which had schools in the worst condition. They axed Labour's Building Schools for the Future' scheme, claiming it was rigged towards Labour areas on the basis of little reliable data.

The EFA - which oversees construction, as well as day-to-day funding - was asked to complete a "property data survey programme" on 23,000 schools by last October.

To carry out that task, the EFA commissioned surveys of just over half (57%) of schools and relied on local council data for the rest.

But, a month before the programme was due to be completed, the EFA identified "inconsistencies in the data supplied by local authorities", today's report shows.

As a result, Education Secretary Michael Gove has commissioned surveys of the 8,000 schools that were meant to be covered by the council information.

The NAO report said: "This will cost the Agency £6 million in unplanned spending, potentially diverting resources from other projects. The delay in collection means that the data will not be available as planned to inform capital maintenance funding allocations in December 2014.

"This suggests that the agency may have been over-optimistic in its planning assumptions around the consistency of local authority data."

It was not clear how the Dfe assessed the EFA's ability and capacity to take on all its responsibilities when it was set up in 2012, the report added. Furthermore, the number of schools and colleges on its watch will rise by 50% by 2016 - at the same time as it must reduce its administration costs.

A DfE spokeswoman said: "It has always been the intention to complete school surveys on the new consistent basis, over time. So this brings forward the expenditure of £6 million from future years. The benefit will be a consistent database that will be used to allocate maintenance funding."

But Margaret Hodge MP, chairman of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "There is a real danger that the Agency will simply become overloaded, putting at risk the value for money it achieves from its £51 billion of funding."

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