Councils sell properties to fund school refurbishment

Local authorities shed assets to plug gap left by BSF cancellation

Richard Vaughan

Town hall chiefs are being forced to sell public assets in a bid to raise cash to refurbish schools, after the cancellation of the government's multibillion-pound school rebuilding programme.

Both Camden and Liverpool councils have announced plans to auction land and public buildings to generate much-needed funds to patch up their crumbling school estates. The two local authorities had been in line to receive hundreds of millions of pounds under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, but the scheme was scrapped by education secretary Michael Gove 18 months ago.

The cancellation of BSF was compounded by the near 80 per cent cuts to schools' devolved capital formula grants, which allow headteachers to pay for general maintenance.

Camden's schools were anticipating #163;200 million in extra capital from BSF, but council bosses have had to resort to selling some of their assets to make up the shortfall. The North London borough believes it is in an almost unique position to cope with the cuts to its capital budget, owing to the capital's high property prices. The council anticipates raising #163;117 million to help improve 57 schools and children's centres, including building a completely new primary school.

Councillor Theo Blackwell, Camden's cabinet member for finance, said the local authority has made the commitment to invest any proceeds it raises into schools to avoid a "crisis" five years down the line.

The capital is facing a school places emergency. It is estimated that by 2015, areas such as Camden will be in need of tens of thousands more places owing to demographic changes.

"We know if we don't invest in our schools then people will end up voting with their feet and teachers and parents will end up leaving our schools. We lost #163;200 million, and by not continuing to invest in schools, in five years' time schools would be facing a capital crisis," Mr Blackwell said.

Fiona Millar, chair of governors at the borough's William Ellis School, said that while her school was "extremely grateful" for the work the council had done, the amount of capital being made available by the government "for small refurbishments" was discouraging.

Camden said it was trying to take innovative approaches to school refurbishment, with one school, Netley Primary, being funded by building affordable housing above the school. According to the council, a #163;9 million refurbishment of the school will be paid for by the sale of #163;28 million of private housing on the same site.

Liverpool council is looking at equally imaginative solutions. The local authority lost #163;350 million of BSF money, but revealed a #163;100 million rescue package back in September.

The city has brokered a deal to build three schools with a construction company, EdVenture, which builds flexible learning environments similar to structures used in airport terminals that can be constructed at half the cost of conventional schools.

The first school to have proposals drawn up was Notre Dame Catholic College, which could share its site with a doctors' surgery and an indoor market. Notre Dame's headteacher Frances Harrison said she was looking forward to the possibility of a new building for the school.

"More than 80 per cent of our students come from within two miles of our new building's location, which means this regeneration will create local facilities for local people," she said.

The big squeeze, pages 26-30

ACADEMIES CUT OFF

Camden Council has warned any school contemplating converting to academy status that it will not receive any rebuilding cash from the local authority.

Council chiefs have told heads that if they go independent they will have to source capital from the government or their academy sponsors.

None of the borough's schools has opted to convert. The UCL Academy, which opens this year, will be Camden's only academy.

"It's a question of fairness. We don't think money that is for local authority schools should be made available to academies as that would not be fair to the maintained schools," Councillor Theo Blackwell said.

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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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