Academies network runs into cash crisis

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A UNIQUE scheme which has seen a town’s secondary schools replaced with a network on new academies at a cost of more than £1bn is now at “significant risk” of running into financial trouble.

Barnsley Council implemented its ambitious Building Schools for the Future programme several years ago as an answer to the town’s historically poor performance on education.

The cost of building the nine new academies was said by the council to be the largest ever single capital investment in the town and unique in the country.

However, the finances for the scheme involved selling redundant school sites for £21m by early 2015. Council officials are now warning there is a “strong possibility” the authority will have to plug a shortfall until buyers can be found for the land.

A new report to the council’s ruling cabinet warns: “Some £21m of capital receipts from the disposal of former school sites are required to fund the BSF scheme.

“The funding profile for scheme requires these to be realised over the period to 2014/15, although at this time none of these receipts have yet been realised.

“There is still a possibility that these receipts could be realised within the anticipated funding profile for the scheme though this obviously remains a significant risk given the uncertain economic climate.

“There is therefore a strong possibility that other funding would need to be temporarily identified.”

Councillor Alan Gardiner, the council’s corporate services spokesman, said: “The risks around the timing of capital receipts has been recognised from the start of the project.

“As any actions needing to be taken would be of a temporary nature it is not envisaged that this will impact on future budget plans,” he said.

That last of the academies, Horizon, which was built in Dodworth Road to replace Holgate and Kingstone schools, opened in September with more than 2,000 students.