North East council caught up in school funding shortage

Durham County Council admits that lack of Government funding has led to repair funds being used instead as need for school places grows

Primary school pupils during a lesson
Primary school pupils during a lesson

A North East council is being forced to cut back on school repairs and borrow money in order to plug a black hole in school places funding.

Durham County Council was among the three quarters of authorities in England to say they have not received enough money from the Government to create the extra school places needed in their area due to population increases.

A poll of finance chiefs by the Local Government Association (LGA) for the five-year period to 2016/17 found that, of the near 80 councils that responded, 77% said the funding has not been enough.

However, Northumberland County Council and South Tyneside District Council said they currently have enough cash to cope, bucking the national trend. North Tyneside and Newcastle City Councils were unavailable.

The LGA report claims councils nationally are going to “extraordinary lengths” to ensure every child has a school place, including additional classes and temporary buildings.

An extra 90,000 primary places were created in the country last year, and the LGA says a further 130,000 will be needed by 2017/18, along with 80,716 new secondary places by 2019/2020.

Durham County Council said demographic changes and new housing was having a growing im­­pact on its schools. The authority was due to receive £13.2m for 1,864 new school places by 2016/17 but has only received just over half so far.

A spokesman said: “The financial shortfall has been made up by using some of the allocation the council receives from the Government for school maintenance, and by using playing fields capital receipts.

“We are looking at providing a further 400 school places in 2016/17 at an approximate cost of £5.5m. Funding for these places has yet to be found.”

David Simmonds, Cabinet Member for Education and Children's Services, Hillingdon.
David Simmonds, Cabinet Member for Education and Children's Services, Hillingdon.
 

Coun David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s children and young people’s board, said that across England the total amount of money councils said they were short of came to £1.06bn.

More than a third of the councils who said they were short were borrowing money, two thirds using cash from developers, over a fifth taking funds from other building programmes and half using money from other school projects.

Coun Simmonds added: “The scale of this black hole is such that the cost of the creation of new school places cannot be met by council taxpayers.

“The lack of school places is no longer confined to primary schools but is spreading to secondary schools, and across the country we estimate more than 200,000 places will be needed.”

The Department for Education said it was giving councils £5bn to spend on new school places during this Parliament, which has already resulted in the creation of 260,000 new places in “shortage areas”.

A spokesman added: “In addition we are allowing good schools to expand without the restrictions and bureaucracy they faced in the past.”

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