Calderdale school cash crisis - small sites could be forced to close

Calderdale Council is facing a major financial challenge to fund schools in the borough
Calderdale Council is facing a major financial challenge to fund schools in the borough

Calderdale schools face serious challenges to improve their buildings and smaller sites could be forced to close due to the lack of funding available.

In a report that went before Calderdale Council’s Cabinet this month it revealed that the school capital programme ‘is currently financially over committed and future liabilities will only worsen the position’.

To meet the demands Stuart Smith, the director of adult and children’s services, recommended that some schools could be closed and others make a contribution towards future projects.

School land and former sites including Cragg Vale could be sold to help fund the programme.

He said: “In the main, current projects are being met from funding from previous years. As it now stands, by committing Copley Primary School (which arose out of an emergency health and safety decision to proceed before funding had been identified), and the cost of storm and flood damage in December 2015 to three primary schools, the programme is significantly over committed assuming that the programme is delivered to the current budget and timescale.

“The maintenance programme now requires the use of funding yet to be announced and allocated by the DfE for 2018/19 and 2019/20.”

Mr Smith said costs at three primary schools damaged in the Boxing Day storms of 2015 (Riverside Juniors, Lee Mount Primary and New Road Primary), are now likely to exceed the initial estimate of works by £1.1 million.

To avoid schools being forced to close on health and safety grounds, funding for schools could be used by the sale of school land and buildings.

Mr Smith said: “As part of the amalgamation of Cragg Vale Junior & Infant School with Calder High School, members have discussed contributing the sale of the old Cragg Vale site towards the costs of developing the Calder High site.

“The working estimate of this sale is £400k. In the last year there has been the opportunity of two further sales as part of current projects.

“At Moorside Primary the sale of the site of the old school building has been given a working estimate of £600k. Further the sale of the old caretaker’s house at Ferney Lee Primary could raise £100k.”

Mr Smith also said council officers should produce a report at a future meeting of Cabinet on individual schools which could face radical changes or face the axe.

“Increasingly small schools are finding it difficult to meet their annual running costs, making it difficult for them to meet their ongoing building maintenance liabilities.

“In short some of these schools are now proving unsustainable. The end result is the Local Authority is picking up more and more health and safety work at these sites to avoid school closures.

“Time has probably come for the Council to consider the future of a number of small schools so that limited capital monies can be invested in those school buildings that have a longer term future.”

Yvonne Carr, president of the Calderdale National Education Union has voiced her concerns on the development

“We are concerned that this proposal has come about as a result of years of under funding in education by the Conservative government,” she said.

“Calderdale has an impending significant funding gap over the next five years for the maintenance of school buildings, to the extent that it is considering merging small rural schools that are proving unsustainable.

“The money needed for investment in these buildings is just not there.

“We are also dismayed that the Prime Minister expressed sympathy but offered no additional funding towards the £3 million of repairs necessary for the 3 primary schools damaged during the Boxing Day floods of 2015."