Legal action over axing of schools building scheme

Education Secretary Michael Gove
Image caption Michael Gove insisted the Building Schools for the Future initiative was poor value for money

Three councils in England have launched legal action over the government's decision to scrap the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative.

In July, Education Secretary Michael Gove shelved the £55bn programme, saying it was wasteful and inefficient.

Nottingham city and Luton borough councils, along with Waltham Forest Council - all Labour run - are seeking a judicial review.

The government said action had to be taken but funding was still available.

When the BSF scheme was halted, it meant rebuilding or improvement projects at more than 700 schools were cancelled.

Legal advice

Nottingham City Council has lodged papers in the Leeds Administrative Court requesting permission to apply for a judicial review of Mr Gove's decision to stop funding for Top Valley and Trinity schools and Top Valley Learning Centre.

The authority claimed it was contrary to the council's legitimate expectation that the funding would be forthcoming after the outline business case for the three schemes was approved in February.

It also claimed the decision was irrational in arbitrarily using 1 January 2010 as a cut-off date for stopping funding of BSF projects and requested the court quash the decision so the schemes receive the funding expected.

David Mellen, the council's portfolio holder for children's services, said: "The council has explored a number of options in order to secure funding to carry out the planned remodelling of Top Valley and Trinity schools which have been stopped.

"We have sought counsel's advice on whether to take legal action to resolve this dispute and our decision to push ahead with legal proceedings has not been taken lightly."

He added: "Our decision to take legal proceedings demonstrates our commitment to taking whatever actions are necessary to overturn the decision."

He also said the council would have preferred a negotiated solution but had received no response to requests to meet Mr Gove.

'Cavalier' decision

Officials added they were trying to minimise the cost of the legal proceedings by taking the action jointly with Luton council, which also had BSF projects stopped.

Waltham Forest Council Council, in north-east London, also launched legal action, saying the decision to pull the funding would have a "catastrophic effect" on pupils.

The action comes as academy leaders urge the government to draw up a new school building programme as a matter of urgency.

The Independent Academies Association said it recognised the need for a new, less costly capital programme in these "tougher times", but added: "It is vital that a new programme is developed soon and that the importance of new buildings as a package to renew poor performing schools is recognised."

Shadow schools minister Vernon Coaker said it was "right and proper" for the councils to challenge a decision that was taken in a "cavalier fashion".

"If the education secretary's decision is overturned it would be a huge embarrassment for him since he insisted on rushing this decision despite advice that a legal challenge was a real risk," Mr Coaker said.

'Urgent demand'

"Parents, pupils and teachers are shocked that Michael Gove took the decision to scrap school building projects in over 700 communities.

"The impression created is that this was done in a reckless and irresponsible way and if the court agrees then Mr Gove will need to explain himself."

A Department for Education spokesman said: "We understand people's disappointment but the BSF programme was wasteful, needlessly bureaucratic and seriously behind schedule.

"It would have been inexcusable to have continued with the programme. Ministers have been clear that the end of BSF is not the end of school rebuilding.

"That is why the government has launched a comprehensive review of all capital spending in schools so that money goes to those schools in most disrepair and to deal with the urgent demand for primary school places."

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