Labour concern at UTC's funding
AN argument has broken out over funding of the new University Technical College building.
The Government has committed to pay more than £9m towards its construction, with Swindon Council providing up to £500,000 if needed.
The figure was agreed earlier in the year and signed off at Wednesday night’s cabinet meeting.
However, the Labour Group raised concerns the council may be faced with paying more if there are unforeseen costs during construction.
The UTC is due to open in September next year for students aged 14 to 19, and will focus on an engineering education designed by local companies.
Labour argues there are not enough safeguards in place but the Conservatives say the fears are without foundation.
Labour Group leader Coun Jim Grant (Lab, Rodbourne Cheney) said: “The Labour Group is fully supportive of Swindon having a UTC and the site that has been chosen for it. We believe this college is vital to addressing Swindon’s long-term educational needs.
“Following the cabinet meeting I remain concerned about who is responsible for the building project should unforeseen costs arise while the technical college is being built.
“My understanding is that the Government is providing an upfront grant of over £9m to build the college, however, should there be unforeseen costs that will mean either the council will have to meet those costs or the scheme would be mothballed altogether.”
Coun Grant cited the example of the council’s building of Croft Primary School, saying the £800,000 overspend was an example of school projects not hitting their target.
He said: “Cabinet said it wouldn’t be prepared to spend any more money on the scheme, so does that mean they’re prepared to allow the UTC to be mothballed should there be additional unforeseen costs? At present they are not answering that question.”
He said: “Central government have agreed to meet the funding costs. There has been an agreement and we have a letter of confirmation to say the money will be provided.
“Labour seem to want a formal contract between us and the Government but this is the normal way for these things to be done. There is nothing unusual in the way things have been carried out.”
The Government has agreed to fund the building with the council money going towards the parts that will not be paid for by the Government. An example is the water cooler on the proposed site, which is on the old Mill Site owned by Network Rail near Bristol Street.
The council has taken the decision to keep the cooler so it can be used as part of the UTC’s curriculum. As the Government will not cover the cost of this the council will pay £200,000.
Another criticism by Labour is they were not given adequate time to consider the proposal.
Coun Renard said: “It is important that the deal was signed off straight away otherwise costs could have been incurred.
“Any delays would have resulted in an extra £20,000 cost a week for the council, which is money that could not have been put towards the college.”
The proposal will finally go before a scrutiny committee on Monday before being finally signed off.
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