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Sat October 31 2020

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Councils’ BSF challenge goes to court

7 Dec 10 Five local authorities will be in court next month to challenge the government’s decision to scrap dozens of school building projects.

Kent County Council, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council and Waltham Forest Borough Council are all seeking a judicial review of the cancellation of projects under the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme.

Education secretary Michael Gove scrapped 715 school schemes in June when he announced that all BSF projects that had not reached financial close would not go ahead. Many councils had already spent millions on the projects. Kent County Council, for example, had spent £3.7m on consultants for cancelled schemes in Thanet and Gravesham, £2.9m on 16 schemes in Dover and Shepway, and £150,000 on proposals for schools in Sittingbourne.

The Honourable Mr Justice Langstaff has granted the five local authorities permission for a full hearing into a review to take place in the High Court. "The claim raises arguable issues, which merit a full hearing," he said. The hearing is due at the Royal Courts of Justice in London towards the end of January and is expected to take five days.

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Luton councillor Tahir Khan said: "This legal action was taken reluctantly, and only after having failed to find a way forward from our correspondence with the Department for Education. Our action relates to two schools, at a combined cost of £45m, where we were just seven weeks away from construction start. This late cancellation has left the council with liabilities totalling £3.6m for the abortive work already done and therefore having to find further savings from an already scarce budget, which ultimately will mean cuts to more services and jobs.

"We are not disputing the Secretary of State's right to make a decision to withdraw funding for the Building Schools for the Future programme but we believe the decision reached was irrational and that our individual circumstances were not taken into account. Our priority is to protect the interests of our local schools, young people and residents."

Sandwell council leader Darren 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." Sandwell had nine projects cancelled.

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