Give unspent building cash to schools, unions argue

Schools could have an extra £36,000 each on average to spend on their buildings if the Department for Education (DfE) had reallocated last year’s unspent capital budget, according to new analysis by the School Cuts coalition.

It is run by the National Education Union (NEU),  Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and NAHT, and is supported by  Parentkind and National Governance Association.

The analysis says the DfE underspent its own capital expenditure limit by over £1 billion in 2022 to 23 and another £900 milion in 2021 to 22.

If the 2022 to 23 underspend alone were redistributed to schools to spend on their own capital projects via the Devolved Formula Capital (DFC) route, it would mean an extra £36,410 for the average state-funded school in England, or £27,119 for the average state-funded primary school in England, and £81,328 for the average state-funded secondary school in England.

In 2022, the Treasury gave the DfE a Capital Departmental Expenditure Limit (DEL) of £6,365m for 2022-23, but they only spent £5,348m in 2022-23, leaving £1,017m unspent.

This is despite the National Audit Office and others reporting the desperate state of disrepair in schools.

School Cuts argue that the unspent money should be kept for school buildings rather than returned to the Treasury. 

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the National Education Uunion (NEU), said: “School buildings are crumbling around our children as they try to learn.

"Yet even the inadequate amounts of money set aside for their repair are being returned to the Treasury unspent. If bureaucracy and mismanagement mean that the DfE is not allocating this money where it is so desperately needed, the only sensible option is to give it directly to schools.

"They are best placed to know where it needs to be spent. Redistributing this money would make a tremendous difference at a local level, in a way that is tangible to pupils, school staff and communities.”

Pepe Di’Iasio, ASCL general secretary, added: “It beggars belief that not only is the amount of money allocated for the upkeep of school buildings completely inadequate, but the Department for Education cannot even manage to distribute the money that is available.

"Public funding is intended for the public benefit, not some sort of pass the parcel exercise between government departments. The next government must make sure that funding is both adequate and delivered to the frontline.”

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