A major savings boost will be flowing the way of Lancashire schools after water company bosses agreed to a bill reduction.
Following a lengthy campaign, United Utilities will offer a significant discount on waste water charges that could represent a £1m windfall for county primary and secondary schools.
School leaders and local authority chiefs have welcomed the move that comes after a significant lobbying effort from organisations including the Lancashire Schools forum.
County Councillor Susie Charles said: “This is really good news as it will make a difference to school budgets.”
For several years education leaders have highlighted perceived inequalities in the system which saw the North West pay higher rates than other regions.
Surface water and highways drainage costs are paid by schools if rainwater from their sites runs into public sewers.
And as the fees are calculated using the size of school grounds, annual fees can be high due to the size of playgrounds.
The changes implemented by United Utilities means schools’ waste water payments will be slashed by up to 50 per cent from next year.
A letter addressed to Jo Turton, Lancashire County Council’s top officer, from United Utilities’ chief executive Steve Mogford outlined a “significant part” of current charges were due to “playground surfaces.”
And as such facilities are “an essential part of the fabric of both school infrastructure and the pupil experience” a change was needed as “schools are likely to find it impractical to disconnect playgrounds from the drainage system.”
The letter adds: “I trust that you consider this to be a positive response to the issue of surface water and highway drainage charges for schools in our region.”
Mayor of Preston Coun Brian Rollo had previously raised the issue in the city’s council chamber, highlighting that the North West pays higher costs than its counterparts.
Figures he presented to the town hall in 2015 said Preston schools were paying an average of £39 per pupil for waste water charges, compared with the Lancashire average of £34.
Areas in the South East were paying as little as £12, the figures also showed.
United Utilities had previously said the region’s higher population, higher rainfall and industrial legacy meant that wastewater services were more expensive than other areas.
Bosses said the concession - brought in for the 2018/19 - will apply for premises used “exclusively or nearly exclusively for delivering education” for key stages one to five, and, which has a playground.
The Lancashire Schools forum has in turn requested UU to amend this definition so that it includes nursery and pre-school premises.Coun Charles, Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, said: “We are pleased that United Utilities has responded positively to the requests from local authorities in the North West for a review of charges for school water bills.
“We were concerned that the chargeable rates for surface water and drainage varied across the country and that schools in the North West seemed to be particularly disadvantaged.
“Whilst no specific figures are available yet, we understand that the majority of Lancashire schools will benefit from a 40 per cent reduction in their waste water bill, which could be worth over £1m annually from 2018/19 as well as receiving a credit for the current financial year.”