Surrey school places expansion ‘scrapped’

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Plans to create 13,000 new school places have been scrapped because they would have “saddled the taxpayer with enormous borrowing”, Surrey County Council has said

Leader David Hodge said unless it got more money from government it could not afford to guarantee places from 2015.

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He said the current shortfall would mean borrowing £200m over five years.

The Department for Education (DoE) said Surrey will have received £104m for new places between 2011-2015.

‘Rising demand crisis’

Mr Hodge made his announcement just before authorities across England found how much money they would get from the government to spend on local services next year.

He said: “We are facing a crisis with rising demand for places and regrettably the government – despite repeated requests – has failed to guarantee it will provide us with the necessary funding to meet this need.

“So far, in the absence of a fair funding settlement for the 13,000 extra school places we need over the next five years we have been forced to borrow tens of millions of pounds to fund this expansion.

“That cannot continue. It would leave us with having to borrow well over £200m on behalf of the Surrey taxpayer. Money which would not be paid off for forty years.”

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Analysis: Jack Fiehn, political reporter, BBC Surrey

It would seem that the frustration has finally boiled over.

This is not the first time that David Hodge has expressed concern about the lack of school places in Surrey.

In October he said that, although the county council had found a place for every child this year, they had “made it by the skin of our teeth”.

The problem has been getting worse, largely due to an unanticipated rise in the birth rate in Surrey over the past decade.

Opposition councillors have criticised “failures’ in forecasting” and the planning for schools.

The Conservatives who control the authority have been getting more and more frustrated over what they see as a lack of funding from the government.

They argue that Surrey contributes more in tax than any region outside the City of London, but gets less money each year than the average county council.

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Mr Hodge previously said that in September 2014 the council managed to provide an additional 4,100 spaces by “the skin of its teeth”.

A DoE spokesman said: “We are giving Surrey County Council £104m from 2011-2015 to spend on new places – compared to just £24m by the previous government over an equivalent period.”

Surrey County Council was also receiving a further £60million to spend on new school places in 2015-17, according to the government.

The spokesman said two free schools had been opened in the county, with another one also due in September, which would provide more than 1,800 extra places.