Earlier this month I explained that there was a problem identifying the funding needed to resolve the issues at Helston College’s C Block? I said then that the Council was working with the College and other partners to identify the best way forward.
While I had not intended to say anything else until there was a clear plan in place, over the past few days I have been contacted by a number of people who are concerned by some of the things which have been said about the situation and want to know what is happening.
I would, therefore, like to take this opportunity to clarify some of the misinformation and outline what is being done behind the scenes to resolve this important issue.
The facts are that the Council’s Cabinet met in July 2012 to discuss the various options surrounding C-Block.
These options were:
Option 1 – Repair Solution Based on Summer Holiday Working Only
There are two solutions for the roof works, being either overlaying the existing covering and re-using the existing internal RWPs, or a complete redesign of the existing roof discharging water to RWP’s on the external perimeter.
There are two solutions for the curtain walling replacement, being either replacing the ground floor ceilings perimeters only and retaining the majority of the ACM boards, or removing the ground floor ceiling complete and replacing with new suspended systems.
Cost of Works Total
Overlay existing roof £490,500.00 or Redesign roof £662,200.00
Curtain Walling Perimeter ceiling £2,019,200.00 or Curtain Walling Entire ceiling £2,730,600.00.
Option 2 – Complete Refurbishment Solution Vacating the Whole Block
This option is based upon carrying out a complete refurbishment of Block C to achieve 20-year life expectancy. C Block would be vacated and temporary accommodation provided for the duration of the contract. To achieve this programme the enabling works (temporary car park) would be undertaken as a separate contract to the main works.
Cost of Works Total Refurbishment £6,963,200.00
Option 3: Complete refurbishment solution, partial vacation – costs are inline with option 2
Option 4: Rebuild C Block (with no clear funding option)
Total cost of works £9,211,500 – £10,095,900.
This option is based upon demolishing C Block and replacing with a new building, providing equivalent facilities. The option can be progressed in one of two alternative ways.
One alternative is to construct the replacement building on the same site as the current C Block. Therefore, temporary accommodation will be required. The other alternative is to construct the replacement building on a different site and continue to use C Block as temporary accommodation throughout the new construction works.
At the meeting of the Cabinet in 2012 Members decided to go with Option 4.
In the report the Cabinet were advised on the financial matters. The report made it very clear that there was no funding in place at that time to carry out the scheme. As follows:
The total capital cost of the preferred option is in the range of £9.2m and £10.1m dependent on the actual final option selected. Currently, there is no provision within the existing capital programme for this scheme.
As you can see, when the decision was made to go with option 4, there was no clear idea on how it would be paid for. Furthermore, the funding of capital schemes for schools normally comes through Department for Education capital grant funding which covers capital maintenance and basic need. These allocations are to fund all Local Authority schools in Cornwall.
The allocations for recent years have been
2011/12 LA Capital Maintenance £9,878,067
2012/13 LA Capital Maintenance £6,886,597
This money is not for one school, however – it is for all schools in Cornwall. So if we wanted to use this money for C-Block, then there would be no money for any other school. Currently, there is around £54m worth of maintenance back-log in Cornwall’s schools. So it is highly unusual for the council to have to pay for a school rebuild. Furthermore, there is no guarantee the council will get more Capital Maintenance funding for 2014/15, and if the Council does, it will be less than previous years.
Of course the Council could borrow the money. This could still be done, but to put it into perspective, the costs of repaying this “mortgage” would initially cost us £675,000 a year. While this amount would gradually reduce over time as the principal is repaid, the average costs over 40 years would be £465,000 p.a. Or you could do it over 25 years for around £800,000 p.a. With money as tight at the council, this would require some pretty drastic action in services/capital programme just to cover the loan costs.
We could change the priorities for our existing building programme but funding the £10 million needed to re build C block would mean we would have to abandon one or a number of existing Council schemes. To find this money we would have to look at the larger areas of spending, such as maintaining other schools in need, repairing our roads or carrying our road safety schemes to reducing the number of houses for local people. Removing any of these projects would have huge repercussions on other services and plans.
It is also important to recognise that Helston is one of five other schools that are in similar positions.
Turning now to the actual recommendation that was made 12 months ago:
The proposal to replace C Block of Helston Community College in accordance with Option 4 set out in this report is agreed in principle subject to approval of appropriate funding.
That the options for funding the said Option 4 be noted and that the Director of Children, Schools and Families and the Head of Finance, in consultation with the Portfolio-holders for Children’s Services and Corporate Resources work up detailed proposals for funding the said Option 4.
This decision was made 12 months ago. When I took over as the Portfolio holder two months ago I asked the question on what was happening at Helston College a month into the role. I was told that the issue of lack of funding is still the same as it was 12 months ago. You might ask what was happening for the 10 months before I took over the portfolio.
As you know the council’s finances have had two further rounds of cuts since the original decision was made. So if the money was not available then, it is even harder to find now.
I am a firm believer of keeping people informed. That includes the school. Both I and the Director of Children’s Services met with the Head and Deputy Head of Helston College a number of weeks ago to give an update. Of course they were very disappointed and wanted to know why it had taken a year (a very valid question) to come to this point. The Head asked if both I and the Director would come to the college and explain the position to staff. I agreed to attend. As you can imagine, it was not an easy meeting, but one that had to happen.
Since then I have had calls about how it is shameful I have cut the funding. I would like to make it very clear that I have not cut any funding for Helston College. There has to be funding in place to be able to cut it and, as shown above, the original decision to go ahead with the proposed rebuild was made: in principle subject to approval of appropriate funding.
One option is to lobby Government for some of the £50 billion that has been set aside for infrastructure projects like Helston College and other schools and we are working with the College and the local community on investigating this option.
I am doing everything within my powers to sort this situation out as quickly as possible. But I do not have a magic wand, or a leprechaun’s pot of gold.
I even blogged about the original decision HERE. And yes, I even mentioned about the money.
I understand, and share, the frustrations which have been expressed by people over the situation we are in. I would like to end by making one final point. If you are going to sign up to a project, then surely it makes sense to actually identify the money first before a decision is made? I might like a supercar, but I don’t walk into a showroom to order it and then find I have no money to pay for it. Maybe the previous administration should have thought of that before it made its decision
As I said before we appreciate that people in Helston are concerned about this. We are working to try and address the issues with C block and I will ensure that the local community is kept up to date with what is happening.
For those interested, HERE is the original Cabinet report.
I hope in writing this post, I have cleared up some of the issues surrounding C-Block.