'Black hole' of funding for school places

4:43pm Friday 29th August 2014

By James Caven

A council was left having to plug a ‘black hole’ of funding for school places.

Barnet Borough Council had to add £70.87 million to its government funding for school places, according to research by the Local Government Association (LGA).

Totteridge councillor and leader of the council, Richard Cornelius, said: “We saw it coming so we provided it from the budget. It seems to be okay.

“The problem at the moment is primary school places. The next thing will be secondary places. It’s difficult to gauge the numbers we will need.

“It’s always quite difficult, especially as the birth rate has increased. It’s a challenge but so far we have managed to get it right. For the moment we are living on tenterhooks.”

A new primary school opens next month in Mill Hill. Millbrook Park Church of England Primary School will initially have 60 students in its first year, eventually providing up to 700 places.

The developers, Inglis Consortium, in which the council is a shareholder, put in three-quarters of the funding. Mr Cornelius added: “The council put in the land from the depot. We are equity partners. It’s an example of the council being entrepreneurial.”

The research by LGA found that more than three-quarters of councils who responded to their survey did not receive enough money to create the extra school places needed in their area between 2011/12 and 2016/17.

David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's children and young people's board, said: "Since the pressure on places first emerged, councils have been getting on with the job of creating more, and welcome though Government funding is, it is nothing like the full cost.

"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. 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."

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