Council battle with Eric Pickles over academy funding reaches courts

THURROCK Council was one of 23 local authorities which recently sought judicial review to challenge decisions by Eric Pickles (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government), on how the government calculated the significant local authority grant reductions for 2011-12 of approximately £148 million to provide funding for schools across the country converting to academies.

This reduction — described as the “Academies Funding Transfer” — was scheduled to be repeated next year with further anticipated reductions of £265 million.

Thurrock Council joined a number of authorities in making a formal application for judicial review on 3 May 2011.

The council and its fellow claimants argued that the Academies Funding Transfer was, among other things, in breach of the New Burdens Rules and that any reduction in funding for local authorities should not exceed a proper estimate, made following appropriate consultation, of the amount of savings to local authorities resulting from the conversion of maintained schools to academies.

The Secretary of State has now, without any admission of liability, agreed to reconsider the appropriate amount of the Academies Funding Transfer for 2011-12 and 2012-13, and agreed to consult with local authorities prior to finalising his reconsideration, and has agreed to pay the costs of all the claimants.

As a result, Thurrock Council and the other local authorities have collectively agreed to “stay” their court claim (which means that it is suspended but not withdrawn).

The Secretary of State will now reconsider and consult with all local authorities on the funding decisions.

Cllr Oliver Gerrish, Thurrock’s cabinet member for education, said: “The council felt compelled to take action because of the pressure placed by on its already constrained budgets by the Secretary of State’s original decisions on the Academies Funding Transfer.

“His reconsideration of those decisions is a welcome development for Thurrock Council and the other claimant authorities.

“The main point of the claim was that the reduction in Revenue Support Grant was based on what it would cost academies to purchase services, not on what a council might save as a result of not providing those services to academies.

“For Thurrock it is clear that the savings the council might achieve through not providing a service to schools which convert to become an academy are significantly lower than the costs to an academy of purchasing those services.

“The council now expects the Secretary of State to make a proper calculation, made following an open-minded and genuine consultation process, and Thurrock Council will make a full and detailed representation to the Secretary of State on the low level of savings which this Local Authority will achieve from the conversion of maintained schools to academies.”

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