Revealed: How £360m was taken off Norfolk County Council’s books when schools become academies
- Credit: PA
Land and property worth more than £360m has been taken off Norfolk County Council's books as schools broke away to become academies.
A teaching union raised concerns about democratic accountability and the possibility of school land being sold off, but the council said it could only be used for educational purposes.
According to information released under the Freedom of Information Act, school land worth £113m, and school buildings worth £251m, have been taken off the council's register of assets since the Open Academy in Heartsease became the county's first academy in 2008.
A further £17m for vehicles, plant and equipment was taken off the council's books.
Scott Lyons, joint division secretary for Norfolk NUT, said: 'As a society, we have got to be concerned. This land, and these schools, were our inheritance to look after in the public interest, and they have been given to a third sector public interest. As the NUT, we have always seen it as a drawn out strategy to literally give our land to private interests.
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'It means a lot to the parent who lives near a school, asking whose school is this, and who runs it. It's really important for accountability and parental involvement.
'The NUT have always said that we are always a couple of pieces of legislation away from land being able to be sold off, or just given to private interests.'
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The council said the figures related to 64 sites owned by the council which transferred under 125-year leases, and 28 council-owned playing fields at church schools.
A number of schools were not included, because their land and buildings were not owned by the county council when they converted. This includes the Hewett School in Norwich, which was controversially made an academy last year; its land was owned by the Central Norwich Foundation Trust.
The council said: 'The county council has been reducing the sums set against school assets for a number of years on its balance sheet as the number of academies in Norfolk has risen.
'This trend is likely to continue in the future, but in reality this has little or no real impact on the use of the buildings concerned which are being held in trust for educational purposes only. Nor does it affect our ability to borrow funds.'
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said: 'Key elements of the lease include that the land must be used by the academy solely for the provision of education by the academy - or for certain associated activities - and that the leaseholder has no power to dispose of or materially change the land.'
The government's education White Paper, published in March, proposes that when council schools become academies, their land would transfer to the secretary of state for education, who would lease it to the academy trust.
The DfE said this would not weaken the protections of the land, but prevent disputes over land delaying schools becoming academies.
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