The Department for Education (DfE) has reopened its schools asbestos survey to responses until next February, with minister Nick Gibb admitting that almost a quarter of schools had not yet participated in its “asbestos management assurance process”.
It means the findings from the survey will not be published until the spring of 2019, giving rise to concerns that the arrival of the report could be too late to influence long-term expenditure plans.
An eagerly anticipated report
Many have been waiting with bated breath for the publication of the results of the survey, which originally closed at the end of May this year. The “asbestos management assurance process” asks schools to declare whether or not they are compliant with their legal duty to manage asbestos on their premises.
Gibb told MPs during education questions on the afternoon of Monday 12th November that while 77% of schools had already responded, “we expect all state-funded schools and academies to participate, so we have reopened the assurance process from today until February 2019, to give them a further opportunity to do so.”
He also revealed: “The results of the asbestos management assurance process will be published in the spring next year.”
Fears of knock-on effects for school asbestos funding
The extension of the survey has led to fears that the results won’t be released early enough to influence next year’s comprehensive spending review, which will determine the amount of money to be received by schools from 2020.
Labour MP and chair of the parliamentary public accounts committee, Meg Hillier, has repeatedly voiced concerns about the prevalence of schools-based asbestos.
On Monday, she urged ministers to make more funding available to address the issue, commenting: “The problem with publishing this long-awaited information in the spring is that this is likely to be too late to properly influence the spending review.
“Given that 85% of schools have asbestos and the risks are getting greater as those buildings age, will the minister make a serious commitment to providing the funding to schools to tackle that asbestos, otherwise there’s no real incentive for them to come up with a plan, given the pinch on their budgets?”
Gibb replied by referring to existing capital funding pots that schools could use for maintenance, including tackling asbestos in their buildings. He added that 68% of the 17,000 schools that had responded to the survey so far were found to be “assured by the appropriate responsible body”.
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