Schools to keep hold of their cash reserves

MARK NICHOLLS Schools across Norfolk have headed off plans by the county council to raid their budgets.Headteachers across Norfolk's 450-plus schools had feared that the council would claw back some of the £25m they had held in reserves for future projects.

MARK NICHOLLS

Schools across Norfolk have headed off plans by the county council to raid their budgets.

Headteachers across Norfolk's 450-plus schools had feared that the council would claw back some of the £25m they had held in reserves for future projects.

But yesterday, at a meeting of the county's Children's Services Review Panel, councillors decided they would not take any of the cash.

Headteachers' representatives welcomed the move.

Steve Kite, Norfolk president of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “I welcome this decision because it acknowledges the fact that money is not being held inappropriately, and that was the implication.”

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He said headteachers and governors needed to maintain the balances to allow them to plan ahead and be prepared for changes.

“It means that headteachers are not in a situation of yo-yoing between sacking staff one year and then recruiting staff the next,” he added. “We were concerned that what was going to happen was that the money would be taken away, meaning head teachers would not have the money and would have spent time over the summer break worrying about what they were going to do. Fortunately that has not happened.”

Figures released by the council show that money held in balances by schools in Norfolk has increased steadily for several years, from £9m in March 2000 to £29m last year, falling to £25.5m in March this year.

But Mr Kite said: “This decision appears to be a realisation that things are all right and when you compare Norfolk to other authorities across the country, Norfolk is actually average in this respect.”

Councillors noted the figure had fallen to £25.5m - all of it being held for acceptable reasons in line with criteria agreed following consultation with Norfolk's schools.

Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services, said: “We had hoped that for the first time in many years the amount of money being held by schools in balances would be lower at the end of this financial year, and this is certainly a move in the right direction.

“Clearly schools are thinking very carefully about how best to allocate the money, and it means more will be spent on pupils next school year, rather than sit in balances, which has to be excellent news for pupils and parents alike.”

As well as the current year's budget, schools are now given an indicative budget for the following year, to help their financial planning.

The council said that last year, an extra £3.35m was switched from balances to spending in areas such as building projects and new assets and equipment, after work by Norfolk County Council and schools to investigate the money being held back.

This year, the £25m being held in school balances includes £6.1m for building projects, £4.6m for building maintenance, £5m for replacing equipment and assets and £5m for contingencies.

Paul Fisher, the council's assistant director (resources and efficiency) for children's services, said: “We have worked closely with schools and they have followed the agreed criteria, and that's why school balances have gone down. We will continue to work with the Norfolk Schools' Forum and schools in the coming months, and will look to refine the process later in the year, again in consultation with schools, before the process begins again next year.”