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pounds 55m given to school projects; POLITICAL ROW OVER WHO HAS BID FOR CASH.

Byline: By ADAM JUPP Chief Reporter

STRUGGLING plumbers, builders and electricians have been promised a pounds 55m boost after ministers brought forward funding for school revamp projects.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said more than 100 areas across England would benefit from pounds 919m - including around pounds 55m across the North East - allocated for 2010-11 being switched to this coming financial year.

Some pounds 390m is being handed directly to school heads for smaller projects, such as fitting out new gyms, while local councils will get an advance of pounds 499m to spend on more "strategic" schemes.

But Mr Balls sparked a political row after questioning why some local authorities, such as Newcastle and South Tyneside, had failed to bid for spending to be brought forward.

He said: "You can see in a majority of cases that local authorities agree with us that bringing forward spending now means direct support for local small businesses, as well as the schools buildings.

"It means contracts awarded now for builders, plumbers, electricians and for other people who are the kind of guys that do these kind of contracts in local areas.

"The door is still open to local authorities to come forward, and our message is that while we accept there might sometimes be legitimate reasons why in some areas it may be difficult, we should all do the right thing by local, small businesses and our schools and children.

"Bring forward this investment and lets help to sustain the economy through difficult times."

But North East minister and MP for Newcastle East and Wallsend Nick Brown said: "I hope local schools will get on and spend the money - not just to improve facilities for pupils but to support small businesses and jobs in our area too. I'm shocked that the Lib Dems on Newcastle Council have not taken up the Government's offer to bring forward spending on school building projects co-ordinated by the Council.

Mr Brown has written to Newcastle City Council leader Coun John Shipley to urge him to bid for this cash in the context of the failure to bring forward the schools money.

John Collings, director of Delivering Outcomes for Newcastle Children's Services, said: "The funding referred to by the Government is not new money.

"It is money that we have not just already applied for, but money we were allocated by the government when our Primary Strategy for Change was approved.

"The Government has merely asked us if we can bring forward any of the projects from future years to this year, and in doing so receive some of the future money sooner. We have given this request very careful consideration.

We would not wish to do anything that might delay in getting our current projects successfully under way and completed on time.

"Any new investment from central government is greatly welcomed, however we will only bring forward project spending where this can be achieved safely and without putting at risk the overall strategy."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Mar 10, 2009
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