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How is the government's 'academies programme' affecting council budgets?

An investigation by the BBC recently revealed that converting council schools into independent, state-funded academies has cost local authorities £32.5m since the 'Academies Act' was unveiled in 2010.

Footing the bill 

The BBC's report highlighted that councils are being asked to pay off the debts, including budget deficits and legal fees, of any school that becomes an academy. The cost borne by local authorities to date has totaled £32.5m but, somewhat worryingly, this figure was only £22m in December last year.

Many of these costs are being covered by funds that were allocated to councils under government education grants. In practice, this means that normal schools are taking a hit so that academies can start with a clean slate.

Responsibility vs. fairness

The Department for Education (DoE) argues that when a "deficit was accumulated under council control”, it is councils’ responsibility to clear the way for new academies. The Local Government Association has been critical of this view, however, and the group's deputy chairman David Simmonds responded to the DoE as follows:

"It is not fair that some schools are burdened with a deficit while other schools can...leave that debt behind”. Mr. Simmonds also added that it “is not right that the taxpayer foots the bill. This money could instead be spent in ways which directly benefit pupils."

Finding a solution

Though both sides in this debate have a point, the fact remains that local authorities' education budgets are suffering. In addition to rising academy conversion costs, a larger problem is that councils have been forced to write off too much debt. In fact, local authorities have written off as much as £32bn in ‘irrecoverable’ debt since 2008: this sum is equal to about 1,000 times the amount spent on academies.

Dukes Bailiffs can help local authorities to shrink the size of their 'irrecoverable' debts by collecting unpaid invoices in a sensitive and efficient manner. If you work for a local authority that's facing hard times due to mounting education costs and diminishing grants, contact a Dukes Bailiffs advisor and we'll offer friendly assistance today.

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