COUNCILLORS in Northumberland have agreed to pick up the bulk of a shortfall in the funding of three new schools, but ignored pleas that they meet it all.
Northumberland County Council has backed proposals from its executive that it fill most of the £12m gap left by a government and private finance programme in relation to new builds at Alnwick, Bedlington and Prudhoe.
The Liberal Democrat-controlled authority chose not to bow to pressure from governors at Alnwick’s Duchess’s Community High School, Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith – also a Lib Dem – and the majority of its Conservative opposition group, that it pick up the entire shortfall.
The council agreed to apply to the Government’s new £2bn Priority School Building Programme last October on behalf of the schools.
In May, the Government announced that all three would be included in the scheme, although it was later announced that Prudhoe would not be rebuilt in the first round.
Council leaders pledged shortly afterwards that they would plug any funding gap.
In September, it emerged that the pledged money would not cover several aspects of the rebuild projects.
The authority was required to tell the Government whether it was prepared to meet the cost of road access to the new Alnwick school by the end of the month otherwise that site could miss out on the first round.
The executive subsequently agreed that the authority should provide the capital for highways works, dilapidation costs, additional accommodation, reinstatement of pitches, asbestos removal, demolition and project support at the three sites.
It also decided that the council should offer loans to the schools for the cost of equipment and furniture.
Schools would be asked to pay for their own legal advice and other costs from their budgets.
Members also agreed that the council write to the Government giving the requested assurance over Alnwick.
Ahead of the recommendations going before full council, the Alnwick school’s governing body and Sir Alan lobbied the authority, urging it to meet the full costs. And at the meeting, Gordon Castle, Conservative councillor for Alnwick, tabled an amendment calling for the same, which his party supported.
However, the council voted in favour of the original recommendations.
While welcoming the decision to pick up most of the shortfall, Coun Castle, Alnwick headteacher Maurice Hall and Sir Alan have voiced disappointment that the authority would not cover all costs.
Mr Hall confirmed his school would have preferred a grant as governors have concerns about the unknown costs of repaying any loan, and private finance commitments.
County council leader Jeff Reid insisted that the only areas it has not agreed to fund are those which all schools would normally meet from their own budgets.
He argued the authority had to be fair to other schools in Northumberland which would be asking questions if such costs were met by the council.