840 extra school places approved, but you cannot have all the money to do it……

Back in July, Cornwall Council were told by the Education Funding Agency (EFA) that our bid and funding for an extra 840 school places had been approved. The amount of funding the council had bid for was £18.8m.

All those who worked on this were over-the-moon on the success of the bid. And a letter was received by the Director of Children’s Service to confirm our bid had been succesful. This money would help the eight – already identified – schools which are facing huge pressures on pupil placements the ability to extent their facilities.

However, when the actual settlement came through, the amount was in fact£7.8m. This massive shortfall of £11m makes it impossible to deliver the project. Even scaling back the project to a very minimum, the cost to do the work will still come to £11.2m. Still a shortfall of £4.2m.

When I was told of the letter and the amount of funding, I was less than gentlemanly like in the choice of words. I really could not understand how the council had been so mislead.

In response to the lack of the full amount of funding, the council has been and is still lobbying the EFA for the full settlement.

I really hope the EFA reconsiders, as these 840 extra places are needed. Or the alternative is in certain areas there will be no places from our primary children and alternative schools would have to be used. This could involve the council having to pick up the transport costs.

My worry is if the EFA do not fund these projects fully, then the council will have to look at alternative options for funding. This is further complicated by the very fact Cornwall Council is not awash with money. And there would be some very stark choices to be made to find the funding. If it cannot find the funding, then these schools might not get the extra places they so desperately need.

This is the statement I released today:

 Cornwall Council’s Lead Member for Children and Young People, Andrew Wallis, has expressed concern at the news that the Government has underfunded the provision of additional places at eight primary schools in Cornwall and says that he is lobbying Ministers to reconsider the decision.

The Council originally submitted a bid in April to the Education Funding Agency (EFA) for £18.8M of Targeted Basic Need Funding to provide an additional 840 school places in Cornwall. The bid was to provide additional places in eight areas where there is the greatest pressure on school places, including at schools in St Austell, Newquay, Bodmin and Redruth.

The authority heard in July that its bid had been successful and that all eight school expansion schemes would be funded.   A letter sent to  Trevor Doughty, Director of Children’s Services, on 30 July stated “The Targeted Basic Need Programme will fund the provision of new, high quality school places in locations experiencing basic need pressures in order to prepare for future rises in pupil numbers. It gives additional support to those local authorities experiencing the greatest pressure on places by funding new academies and free schools as well as enabling investment to expand outstanding and good schools with high levels of demand”.

The Council was also told that officials in the Education Funding Agency would be providing its officers with further information in the near future.

The authority was then contacted by the EFA on 1 August requesting additional information in support of the application.  However, instead of confirming that the Council would be receiving the £18m originally requested, the authority was told that it had only been allocated £7.8m for all eight schemes- £11m less than the bid submitted and previously approved.   The letter from the EFA stated that the level of funding was based on expected construction costs, which are calculated on a national construction framework for the building of new schools, rather than the expansion of existing schools.

Faced with this shock announcement, Council officers immediately reviewed the plans to see if an alternative solution could be identified which could deliver the urgently needed school places within the reduced funding. Unfortunately this showed that even adopting a scaled down approach involving a modular building programme would still cost around £11.2m – leaving a minimum shortfall of £4.2m.

The Council wrote to the EFA on 16 August expressing significant concern over the amount of the allocation and requesting that the total award should be increased to reflect the actual level of building costs in Cornwall.   This request is currently being considered. 

A meeting was held with the eight schools identified for expansion on 17 September so that the Council could share this information with the headteachers and Chairs of Governors.   The Council and the schools concerned are currently seeking alternative routes to secure additional funding to ensure these school places are provided, however a solution has not yet been identified.

Andrew Wallis, the Council’s Lead Member for Children and Young People, said “To say I am disappointed with the Government would be a massive understatement.

“I find it hard to believe that on one hand the Government informs the Council that we have all our bids and funding approved, but then find out the actual funding does not even cover the basic build costs. This leaves the Council in a difficult position regarding having to provide extra school places without the correct funding to do so”.

 

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