The Rebuilding of Chantry High School

Following on from this post asking Why do the Archant papers have a candidate as a columnist? Ipswich Spy hypercritically gave David Ellesmere some space with this post.

David Ellesmere briefly mentioned school building programmes in his Star column and and has mentioned a bit more on the Ipswich Spy post. David Ellesmere said this

One of the main reasons for the drop in GDP is a contraction in the construction sector. This isn’t surprising as the Government cancelled Building Schools for the Future and slashed money for housing.”

A while ago, Ben Gummer was also given some space on the Spy blog here. where he siad

Building Schools for the Future was unsustainable. Many head teachers admitted as much. The simple fact was that we were procuring schools at four times the cost of standard commercial property and double the price of a similar refurbishment scheme, which also employed innovative architecture, in the Republic of Ireland. It was old-fashioned Labour waste on an epic scale, which not only contributed to the deficit they left us but also made it that much harder to build the schools – like Chantry – that need to be rebuilt. As BSF was costing millions of pounds a week in consultants’ fees even when no building was taking place, it had to be stopped and the programme reassessed.

At the time, I deeply regretted the impact this would have on Ipswich, even though I understood the reasons why the decision was taken. It was, as you have said, the subject of my first comment in the House of Commons. My support for that decision was conditional on schools in urgent need of rebuilding, namely Holywells and Chantry, receiving new buildings under the replacement plan.

My strategy since then has been to lobby for each school in turn. That is how you win battles. It has also fitted the drumbeat of decision-making. The Holywells decision was made first, in December 2010; Chantry, as an application from Suffolk County Council for funding under the Priority Schools Building Programme, will be decided in this round; Stoke, which was not entered into that competition by the County as it was never intended to receive a full rebuild, will be the final target of my lobbying. I shall address each in turn.

Holywells

The original cost for Holywells was put at £27.5m. The governing body themselves said it could be done for far less and with the County Council submitted a revised figure of £18m. I got £15m out of the DfE and the difference will be made up from land sale income and some capital savings made elsewhere, for which we must thank Suffolk County Council. It is still planned to open in Sept. 2013, which was the date given by the previous government; if there is some slippage, it will be in months rather than years. So we have the same capacity school for almost half the cost, meaning we can invest more in other schools like Chantry, which under previous plans would simply have been unaffordable.

On that precise point I am afraid your otherwise excellently researched article is incorrect: under the Darling Plan the full BSF programme, inflating at the rate that it was, was unaffordable. So this decision would have presented itself to any incoming government, of any colour. Mr Balls may have said otherwise but, as we know, his assurances are mutable. By bearing down on capital costs across the rebuilding programme, we can make the money go much further, rather than redesigning every school ab initio with millions paid on every occasion to consultants and architects for redesigning the same end product.

Chantry

As you can see, Chantry was originally planned to open in Autumn 2013. Given the state of progress of design and financial approval achieved by mid-2010, I think that this was already optimistic, to say the least. However, I am confident if we get the money, the slippage from that date will not be huge.

The original cost for this was some £32.5m. Again, I expect that this will be reduced in order to make other schemes that require money but are of lower priority, get some money. That is how you make what little money has been left go as far as possible. As I have said all along, I have never promised anything on Chantry except that I will do everything in my power to make sure that we get the money. That is why I have lobbied education ministers and the chancellor, on many occasions, both in person, on site and by letter, for money to rebuild the school. I can tell you they are well aware of what I want and I will ensure that they remain so until the right decision is made.

Stoke

Stoke was going to receive a more modest BSF project worth about £16m. I have made clear to the chairman of the governors of Stoke and to the head teacher that I shall get to work on their capital needs as soon as I have secured a result for Chantry. Indeed, that was what I told Chantry when I was fighting for Holywells.

A note on primary schools, which one commentator mentioned: the last government did invest heavily in primary schools’ buildings in the early 2000s, evidence of which can be seen across Ipswich. As a result the estate is in quite good order, whatever the age of the buildings. I am in a primary school every week and I always ask whether there are major capital requirements. Almost without exception the answer is no. It is true that some schools will not be able to go for too many years on the reduced maintenance budget without a backlog building up but that is one of the things that will have to be managed as we attempt to get on top of the deficit between now and 2015. If specific funds are required in individual circumstances, clearly I shall endeavour to secure them on a case by case basis.

It is my experience that in government as in much else, if you ask for everything you’ll get nothing. It is far more effective to take on each project at a time. That is why I have won well over £80m of capital investment for Ipswich so far, money that in every instance I know my input made a difference between winning the money or not. After the initial setback of BSF, I have won every capital project for which I have fought. I intend to maintain that success rate and top £100m before the year is out. As ever, I cannot guarantee anything but my utmost efforts to wring the money out of government in what are the most difficult fiscal circumstances faced by this country for almost a century.

Finally, in the interests of complete disclosure, I should say that I have received no representations since May 2010 from any Labour councillor for capital monies for schools in their wards.

There is also this from a recent news letter

You may remember that just over a year ago Ipswich Academy, formerly Holywells High School, received £15 million towards the cost of new buildings by Gainsborough Sports Centre. I fought hard for the money and was pleased – and, if I am honest, a little surprised – to get it, given how few other schools were getting funds.

Immediately afterwards I started a similar campaign for Chantry School, which desperately needs new buildings to replace the knackered old blocks that are fifty years old this year. Chantry’s rebuilding project was one of the casualties of the cancellation of the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme by the new government in July 2010 – cancelled because the whole scheme had become a scam for consultants, meaning that each school was costing taxpayers two to four times what it should have done.

Whatever the faults with BSF, the decision was bitterly disappointing for Chantry parents, teachers – and for me. I told the government that whilst I understood their reasons, I could not support the decision until a replacement programme, which provided both a new school for Chantry and better value for taxpayers, was in place.

So since then I have been fighting for precisely that: a new school for Chantry – one they have been promised on several occasions and at every turn so far have been let down.

I’ve camped on ministers’ doorsteps, written letters and lobbied the chancellor. When the cabinet visited Ipswich before Christmas the secretary of state for education, Michael Gove, visited the school to see for himself what needs to be done. So the government is well aware of what I want – and I will make sure that I keep the pressure on until the right decision is made.

The not so good news is that the decision, which we expected about now, has just been delayed. The upside of this is that I now have more time to lobby for the right outcome.

I can tell you, I intend Chantry to be imprinted on ministers’ memory.

I spoke to Ben Gummer about the rebuilding of Chantry School last week and he informed me that he is still relentlessly lobbying Michael Gove and co about the rebuilding of Chantry. Interstingly he alsso informed me that the onluy people that have spokern to him about it are Stoke Park conservative candidate Bob Hall and myself. So it appears that what we have had from Chantry School govenrnor and Gipping Ward Councillor David Ellesmere’s Ipswich Labour has been all noise and no action.

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1 Response to The Rebuilding of Chantry High School

  1. Stephen says:

    Evidently, when Ben Gummer “relentlessly pursues” someone, he means just that ie “I’ve camped on ministers’ doorsteps, written letters and lobbied the chancellor”, NOT “I have tweeted him twice in a year”.

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