A council leader is spearheading a court battle to save the controversial schools modernisation programme from the Government spending axe.
Financially-pressed Sandwell Council – facing £27 million of spending cuts – is launching a bid for a judicial review, along with five other local authorities, to challenge the decision to halt Building Schools for the Future (BSF) projects.
A five-day hearing is due at the Royal Courts of Justice in London next month to decide whether to allow Sandwell and the other authorities – Luton, Nottingham, Newham, Waltham Forest and Kent County Council – to seek a judicial review. It is set to cost the Black Country authority £25,000 just to launch the challenge.
The council is seeking a review of the Government’s decision to scrap nine projects in its Building Schools for the Future programme.
Earlier this year Education Secretary Michael Gove announced he was halting BSF schemes not signed off by January 1, 2010.
The council said this was unfair because its BSF schemes were ready to proceed before this date but it had to stick to a timetable imposed by Partnerships For Schools, the quango running BSF.
It meant the area’s schools lost funds of £190 million, while millions of pounds more had already been invested by the council’s partners, according to Sandwell Council leader Darren Cooper.
The move caused Conservative councillor Elaine Costigan (Wednesbury) to defect to Labour in protest at the Education Secretary’s decision.
Coun Cooper said: “We do not want to take legal action but we have left with no choice by the Government’s decision. If we can get it changed, it will be money well spent.
“Why did they choose January 1 as the cut off date? Was it just plucked out of the air? If we had been told that was the deadline, we would have met it. Instead we did what we were told and spent money on preparatory work in good faith,” added the council leader.
Sandwell is to argue that the decision was “irrational” and violated its “legitimate expectation” that school renewal projects – planning for which was in many cases far advanced – would go ahead. The local authority is currently developing plans for three BSF schools – Oldbury Campus, Tipton Campus and Wednesbury Campus.
Three academy schemes – state-maintained but independently run with the help of sponsors – are also waiting to hear how much money they will receive.
Coun Cooper said people in Sandwell had been treated in a “disgraceful way”.
“Everyone has seen how desperate these schools are in terms of their refurbishment or rebuild. It is imperative this money comes to Sandwell,” he said.