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.