COUNTY Council Leader David Hodge has revealed that Surrey face a £54 million shortfall for next year’s school places and is lobbying Government for fairer funding.
He said demand to deliver an additional 3,000 places in September 2015/16 is nearly double the gap that county managed to plug this academic year ‘by the skin of their teeth’.
Mr Hodge told a meeting of the full council last week that the expected Government allowance of £30m for the next academic year will be well short of the £84m projected to ensure every Surrey child gets a place.
This year the authority had to find £30m on top of finance to create 4,138 extra places. He told councillors: “Last month we provided 10 times what was needed five years ago.
“We all recognise the efforts of colleagues from many services who have acted as ‘One Team’ to deliver these, but it was tougher than ever – and we made it by the skin of our teeth.
“I am worried about how we ensure that all 3,000 Surrey children will be guaranteed a place next September.
“This increase is a result of the county’s highest ever birth rate: overall, we predict 13,000 extra school places will be needed over the next five years.
“Until now, we have been accommodating most of this by expanding schools. But space, particularly in more urban areas such as Woking, is quickly becoming saturated.
“We now need new schools, not just classrooms, and officers are working flat out to identify sites.”
But Mr Hodge pointed out that even with a suitable site in the right location and planning permission, they are faced with rising construction costs, saying: “We are in an unsustainable position. My ask of Government is simple: we need funding of a further £54m to ensure every Surrey child has a school place in September 2015.
“Surrey taxpayers are the largest contributor to the Exchequer outside London, yet we receive £66m a year less than the average county council.”
Mr Hodge said he’d also had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, along with Linda Kemeny, Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning and Surrey’s chief executive.
He explained: “It was constructive and, while it is not known what the outcome will be, it is encouraging that Government are starting to listen and are
taking Surrey’s case seriously.
“It is important we keep up this momentum – but Linda and I can’t do it alone. This isn’t about the Leader or Cabinet – it is about all 81 councillors making a difference. It is vital we all keep banging the same drum to ensure our voice is heard.
“With my Cabinet, I will continue to do all I can to lobby Government for fairer funding. I trust I can count on the support of every member in this chamber – as well as continuing support of our MPs – to ensure every child can have a school place in September 2015.
“The residents of Surrey are, and will always be, my number one priority.”