EDUCATION Minister Batt O’Keeffe has instigated an independent examination of the €30 million spent annually on renting prefabs as part of a review of the school building programme.
He told the Dáil he has sought independent advice from outside the Department of Education to review the hiring and purchase of prefabs within the schools capital budget, which will reach €586m this year.
Almost 6% of the department’s €2.7 billion school buildings spend between 2000 and 2006 was on prefabs, with most of the costs used to hire rather than buy them. About 750 schools had rented prefabs last year at a cost of about €30m, compared with €4m on prefab purchases.
In response to a question from Labour Party education spokesman Ruairi Quinn, Mr O’Keeffe said he has been reviewing cost-effectiveness in the department since his appointment to cabinet a fortnight ago.
“I am considering other ways of doing business. I am engaging outside experts to review the way we do business in renting and purchasing prefab accommodation.”
But he said that there will always be a need for prefabs because permanent accommodation can not always be provided at short notice.
“Decisions on whether to rent or purchase will depend on the length of time accommodation is likely to be required. In all cases, the approach will be to ensure best value for money,” he said.
Mr Quinn said the policy of hiring prefabs was nonsense. “In one school the annual cost of the rental, which is dead money, would finance a loan of €5m over 30 years, which would provide for the construction of a solid building,” he said.
He suggested the minister consider using the Government’s strategic infrastructure scheme to fast-forward school building projects, many of which are stuck in local planning disputes.
Mr O’Keeffe said that progress had already been made on co-ordinating planning for school buildings and provision of sites between the Department of Education and the Department of Environment, where he previously worked as Minister of State.
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