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Councils 'abandon other building projects' to pay for new school places

Councils have cut back on school maintenance and abandoned other building projects to pay for new school places, research by the Local Government Association has found.

More than three-quarters of councils that responded to an LGA survey said they did not receive enough money from the government to create extra school places needed in their area between 2011/12 and 2016/17.

Of those, 50 per cent of councils said they used money from other school capital programmes, including building maintenance funds, to create new places.

Meanwhile 67 per cent used money from developers, 22 per cent took money from other building programmes and 38 per cent had to borrow money to ensure each child had a school place.

LGA analysis found that an additional 130,000 primary places would be needed by 2017/18, on top of the 90,000 new places that were created last year.

It also showed that 80,716 new secondary places would be needed by 2019/20.

It estimated that it would cost at least £1bn to create the school places needed over the next five years.

Scape chief executive Mark Robinson said the research “should act as a call to arms for councils and the construction industry”.

He said: “To tackle the dual challenge of population growth and migration we need to see more creativity with respect to the design and delivery of the schools and classrooms we build and also work closely with councils to assess the individual needs of an area to create a bespoke solution.

“Education budgets can go a long way if spent wisely and there are a number of new development techniques and methods, such as standardised design, which could improve the current situation quickly, if explored with an open mind.”

Chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People’s Board David Simmonds said: “The scale of this black hole is such that the cost to create new school places cannot be met by council taxpayers.

“The underfunding of free school meals pales in comparison to this, but both show that government’s rhetoric must be matched by its chequebook, rather than leaving local authorities to pick up the tab.

“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 LGA wants the government to provide additional funds and for councils to be given a single capital pot, with an indicative five-year allocation for the next parliament, to enable them to plan school places effectively.

It is also wants councils to be granted the powers to create new schools and work locally to find the best academy provider, and to be given a greater say in judging and approving free school proposals.

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