DfE confirms detailed feasibility study for the rebuild for Helston College will take place early in 2016.

In a spot of good news for Helston College is that the DfE has today confirmed that they will begin the detailed feasibility study for Helston Community College for the Priority School Building Programme which the college was accepted for. This study will take place between Jan-16 and Mar-16. The reason the study is needed is to assess and help determine the most appropriate investment solution for the school. Helston

Once this has been completed, we will hopefully have a clear idea on what will be built. This could be either a whole school rebuild (that would be ace), or replacement buildings for C, D and E Blocks.

The good news after months of silence we now have something to aim for.

Merry Christmas DfE….

Previous blog on the subject can be found HERE

Helston College Rebuild and the correcting inacuracies

It is a very rare occurrence that I have to write to the editor of a paper to express my concern on a story. However, in the case I – and the Head of Helston College – felt it necessary to write a letter to the editor with my concerns on a story.

The reason why is due to an article the West Briton published on its front page saying the rebuild at Helston College could be delayed for up to six years. This headline was based on inaccurate comment said by the Mayor of Helston at a recent town council meeting.

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As readers know, the issue surrounding the rebuild has been a rollercoaster ride and with at least two times came close to a rebuild. However, the Council working with the College managed to secure £22m worth of funding that will go further than the original plan of rebuilding C-block.

The letter is as follows and has been signed by both myself as the Lead Member for Children and Young People, and the Head of Helston College:

“Dear Sir

Following the misleading article suggesting delays to the rebuild of Helston Community College which was published on the front page of the Helston edition of the West Briton, I am writing to put the record straight.

Unfortunately your reporter failed to check the accuracy of the article with either the school, the Council or the Department for Education who are leading on the scheme.

The facts are that there is no suggestion of a time delay for this project. We were told at the beginning of the process, when the Government initially confirmed the funding for the scheme, that the overall timescale for all the building projects being delivered under this tranche of Government funding to be completed would be over a six-year period. In your article reporting Mr Clegg’s visit to the College, you quote him directly stating: ‘It is a national programme which runs from 2015 to 2021.’

We are waiting for details from the Government about exactly what work will be carried out and when the project will occur in the six-year programme and expect to have this confirmed in the Autumn.

The school is in contact with the Department for Education and, in fact, was visited by Department for Education officials last week to carry out a site survey. There was no suggestion of any delay.

I am very disappointed that the paper chose to run this story without checking its accuracy.  This has caused unnecessary alarm among parents and the local community. 

We are working with the school to ensure that the scheme is carried out as quickly as possible and the publication of inaccurate stories such as this is very unhelpful.”

I must further clarify the story about the waste of £300k on the plan for C-Block. Foresight is a wonderful thing, but no-one has this power. The original plan was to for C-Block to be rebuilt, and for this to happen, the DfE/EFA needed what is called ‘shovel ready’ projects. This is where a project can go ahead once the funding has been agreed. Without the plan, you had no chance of getting the funding.

However, the Government announced more funding under the Priority School Build Programme which meant Cornwall Council could apply for more funding to address the other building issues at the College. The Council also made bids for six other schools, Which sadly only three schools secured funding

As you will know, the Council go more than a C-Block rebuild, The College now has the potential to have a whole school rebuild, or at least C, D and E block rebuilds. Though the default position was always C-Block, which we would have needed the current plans.

I hope the letter and this blog clarifies people’s concerns. Both the College and Cornwall Council are working damn hard in delivering the much-needed facilities at Helston College.

Helston College gets its much needed rebuild

Late Friday, I was informed by an embargoed press statement from the DfE that Helston College would receive funding under the priority school build programme. Cornwall Council submitted three bids for Helston College. The biggest was a full school rebuild. The other two bids were for C and E block rebuilds and a rebuild for C-Block.Helston

I am over-the-moon that Helston College will receive this much-needed funding. It has been a long and difficult journey with the school being previously promised a rebuild for C-Block by the previous administration even though there was no clear idea how this would be funded or even having the money to fund this rebuild.  However, from this disappointment, I promised to do everything within my powers to get this much-needed funding for Helston College. Blog on no funding for college HERE.

As for the funding bid, a huge tribute should go to the Access and Infrastructure team in Children’s Service who have worked tirelessly in submitting a strong bid that has now been awarded funding. The real joy is Helston College will not only receive funding for C-Block, but E-Block too! This really is the icing on the cake.

I will join in the celebration of this fantastic news at Helston College on Monday morning when the Deputy Prime Minister along with the local MP, Andrew George visit Helston College to make the announcement.

 

 

Helston College C-Block and why it’s not being rebuilt

For anyone who has had to make a tough decision that will affect people will know how difficult it is. For those who have never had to, then it is easy to knock and past judgement as you often find with the online trolls.  At the May Cornwall Council Cabinet meeting, I had to present a report which I never would have like to present, but had to because of various situations. This report was on the issue of funding a rebuild of Helston College’s C-Block.

Let’s go back to July 2012, the then Cabinet agreed to a C-Block replacement subject to the appropriate funding. To be clear, the original decision was made with no clear idea on how the £10m for the rebuild would be funded.  Move on to the present and since I become the Portfolio Holder which this comes under I have looked at every option of finding funding for this building. Sadly, the £10m cannot be found as I will explain. It must be pointed out, it is very unusual for a Council to support a large-scale scheme like this from its own resources. In fact the Government in the early 2000’s took away this power and money and now gives grants directly.

However, the Government does fund  small building schemes and school maintenance each year. This is called the Educational Capital Grant. For 2012/13 this is £6.8m and for 2013/14 it is £6.34m. This money is for all LA schools, and as you can see it is reducing year on year. To make matters worse, Cornwall Council has maintenance backlog of £59m. Yes, really £59m. This amount has not just suddenly appeared, but is the result of under-funding for school maintenance. So to use all this money for Helston College wouldn’t be enough and would leave all other schools with nothing.

Could this be funded out of the directorate? The answer is no. Why? Well to cover the repayments we would have to find at least £400k per year for over 20 years. This would have a huge impact on the directorate’s budget and would result in other services being cut to pay for the rebuild. For example, the recent decision to close two respite centres due to budget pressures saves £600k per year. So it gives you an indication on what would be needed to do to cover the repayment costs.

There is no scope to change the Council’s capital programme, or use the limited reserves the Council is now left with. As for the latter, the reserves are being used to deal with the severe financial pressures the Council now faces and more recently the added burden of paying for the storm damage.  I hate to dispel the popular myth, but the Council is not awash with money. Furthermore, as per the policy rules, on large-scale works the school has to pay 10% of the costs. Which the college could not fund.

One source of money was identified, and this is the unspent (about £6m) Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). This is ring-fenced money the Government gives to Cornwall for LA schools. However, this money is not controlled by the Council. It is controlled by a group known as the Schools Forum. This forum is made up of teachers from Cornwall who meets and decided how money is spent (I have explained the DSG simply). It is this group who has the power to say yes or no and on this occasion, they said no. Which we can do nothing about it. Off course all of this money would not have done the rebuild on its own, but it could have been made up with some of the money from the maintenance money

I even travelled to London to meet with the School’s Minister which had been kindly arranged by the local MP, Andrew George. Sadly, this drew a blank, but the Minister did someone down to have a look at the college.

So the decision at the Cabinet, which was supported by my fellow Cabinet Members, was to look at a maintenance programme which will deal with the pressing maintenance issues. I wish it was different, but the Council cannot just magic money and fund this without it having an effect on other areas.

There is a small glimmer of hope, and this is the recent announcement of £2 billion worth of funding for ‘Priority School Building Programme.’ Local Authorities, dioceses, academies and multi-academy trusts can submit expressions of interest for an entire school site, or parts of it for funding for rebuilds. I believe this is Helston Colleges best chance of obtaining funding for this much-needed rebuild. I will be doing all I can in making sure Helston College and other school who are in similar positions to be given some of this funding. It is about time, Cornwall was given its fair share of funding, as so often is misses out.

So there you have it, this school is in my local area  and I wish the funding position was different, and Helston like other schools were getting the school building and funding they deserve. Sadly, this is another example of under-funding in Cornwall.

Cornish Delegation has meeting with Schools Minister

Today, the Director of Children’s Services, the Head Teacher of Helston College, Andrew George MP and me, met with the Schools Minister, Rt Hon David Laws MP to discuss funding for Helston College C-Block.

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The aim of the meeting was to directly discuss funding options with the Schools Minister at his office. I am very grateful to Andrew George for organising this meeting with the Minister. As this gave our delegation the opportunity to explain the Colleges and Councils position on funding and the condition of the building.

The outcome of the meeting was very positive and encouraging, as the Minister agreed to send to Cornwall a senior official from the DfE to look into the C-Block issue. Of course no-one was expecting the Minister to get out his cheque book and give us the money; as that’s not how things work.

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet us.

Helston College C-Block

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.