Laura Sharman 05 December 2014

Councils ‘footing the bill’ for academies

Councils are diverting more than £22m of their budgets to help subsidise the cost of the academies programme, town hall chiefs are warning.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils are picking up the cost of converting a council-maintained school into an academy, including legal fees. Councils used at least £22.4m from their budgets between 2011/12 and 2013/14.

The LGA said the government should fully fund this programme, especially as academies attract more funding than council-owned schools following conversion.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: ‘We are supportive of academies and free schools but it is simply not fair that some struggling schools are burdened with a deficit while others walk away to become academies and leave local taxpayers to foot the bill.

‘Nor is it right that consultants and lawyers are making good money handling these conversions when local taxpayers expect this money to go towards other local priorities, whether that is improving other schools or fixing potholes.’

The LGA warned that government programmes such as free school meals and the creation of new school places were already putting undue pressure on council budgets, which have been cut by 40%.

However, a spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) said councils were only required to pick up deficit costs for sponsored academies following 'sustained periods of underperformance'.

A DfE spokesperson said: 'The LGA is wrong. Local authorities are only required to cover a school’s deficit costs if it has become a sponsored academy after a prolonged period of underperformance. This underperformance has almost always taken place while the school was under the control of a council.'

The DfE added more than two-thirds of academies have converted by choice, meaning the council has no obligation to cover any deficit costs.

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