Councils across the country are struggling to fill a “black hole” of at least £1 billion in funding for new school places.
New research from the Local Government Association (LGA) finds that 77 per cent of local authorities say they have not received enough government funding to create the extra school places needed in their area between 2011/12 and 2016/17.
Over half of England’s 150 local authorities responded to the LGA research questions and between them reported a total shortfall of £1,062,086,377 across the five years. The LGA believes the total figure across the country is likely to be higher.
Last year, councils created an additional 90,000 primary places, but LGA analysis shows that a further 130,000 will still be needed by 2017/18. Meanwhile, a total of 80,716 secondary places will also be required by 2019/20.
In a bid to meet the shortfall, councils have been forced to borrow millions of pounds as well as abandon other building projects and even raid funds intended for school maintenance and repair, the research reveals.
Last year, the government committed £2.35 billion to provide new school places up to 2017, but the LGA says this is not enough and points to government figures estimating that it costs £15,430 to provide a single school place.
Councils told the LGA that they have filled the shortfall in a number of ways, including borrowing money (38 per cent), using money from developers (67 per cent), using money from other building programmes (22 per cent), and using cash from other school capital programmes such as building maintenance (50 per cent).
Specific examples include Ealing in London which has borrowed £114 million, taken
£11 million from other capital budgets and £4 million from other council income to fill the hole. In Hillingdon, £92.9 million has been borrowed with a further £21.7 million coming from developers.
The LGA is now calling for councils to be given a single capital pot with an “indicative five-year allocation” that mirrors the next Parliament to help them plan better.
It also wants councils to be given the powers to create new schools and to have a greater say in judging and approving free school proposals.
Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People’s Board, said: “The scale of this black hole is such that the cost of the creation of new school places cannot be met by council taxpayers.
“Councils face a challenge to create places on time and in the right areas, in a climate where they are also short of money to do so. Additionally, much of the decision-making about new school places rests in the hands of the government, whose funding for school places came too late.
“The government should budget for enough money to ensure something as vitally important as providing school places is not funded from other areas. This is an investment in the future which will benefit us all.”