Number of St Helens schools facing financial difficulties warning

A number of schools in the borough will be in financial difficulty going forward, a St Helens councillor has warned
A number of schools in the borough will be in financial difficulty going forward, a St Helens councillor has warned
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A number of schools in St Helens are going into deficit “quite substantially”, a councillor has warned.

Funding for schools is met from the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG), a ring-fenced grant from central government, which is then distributed by St Helens Council.

On Wednesday, Bold councillor John Wiseman raised the issue of school funding pressures at the council’s audit and financial monitoring overview and scrutiny panel.

Coun Wiseman said he was “concerned” a number of schools in the borough will be in financial difficulty going forward, despite an overall increase in funding in 2019-20 of £5 million.

The Labour councillor sought assurances that the local authority would be able to intervene to support schools that go into deficit.

“If a school goes into deficit by a certain amount of money, there has to be some sort of intervention,” Coun Wiseman said.

“And one of my concerns is a number of schools going forward, even though the DSG might have changed, will be in financial difficulty.”

Greg Tyrer, head of finance, systems support and procurement, acknowledged that schools are coming under “increasing financial pressures”.

This is despite previously reported government figures showing that St Helens was the only borough in the North West with no schools in deficit during 2016-17.

Mr Tyrer said: “Schools are coming under increasing financial pressures because prior to 2017-18, for all intents and purposes school funding had been frozen through the DSG.

“So, schools are seeing the accumulative effect of that.”

The issue of schools going into deficit was raised at the schools forum last week by Kathy Hall, head teacher at St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School in Rainford.

Ms Hall asked if schools would be allowed to set ‘negative’ budgets for 2019-20, something that has not been allowed in the past.

Stephen Webb, the council’s finance manager for children’s services, said the council would deal with schools on an “individual basis”.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Tyrer said the council employs a team of school finance officers that assist schools in developing their budgets.

Mr Tyrer said these officers will monitor the budget positions of individual schools and support and guide them in making the necessary decision to assist them in balancing their budgets.

Mr Tyrer added: “Obviously, we would do as much as we possibly could to support any school that is in financial difficulty because the impact is on the pupils and ultimately the local authority has the legal duty to ensure that the pupils are educated.”