Plans to take cash from Bucks schools abandoned

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Plans to force schools across the county with underspent budgets to hand cash back to Bucks County Council were abandoned this week.

In June it was revealed some schools across the county had underspent their budgets by tens of thousands of pounds – sparking calls for closer monitoring of schools’ spending.

A report investigating the possibility of Bucks County Council “clawing back” excessive surplus budgets from schools maintained by the local authority was presented to the Schools Forum on Tuesday.

However finance director at the county council Liz Williams, told the forum it would be “extremely rare” for the council to actually retrieve money from schools.

She added each case would be reviewed individually, and cash set aside for big projects, such as building work, would be taken into account.

Ms Williams said: “Really we wanted to look at whether a scheme should be introduced to look at clawback.

“Certainly looking at my experience from pervious authorities, where you do have a clawback mechanism in place it would be extremely rare that it would actually result in any clawback balances.

“What it does do is give you that process for financial rigour around what schools are planning to do with their surpluses.

“It is really about financial management rather than a money making scheme.”

A county council report states the authority reserves the right to claw back any excessive surplus balances that are 15 per cent or more of the school’s income for the last five years and at least £10,000 per year.

A total of 15 schools ended the last financial year with an excessive balance of more than 15 per cent, while five schools breached the threshold for five consecutive years.

However the forum remained unconvinced by the plans, with headteacher at Chiltern Hills Academy, Kevin Patrick, questioning if the council would actually take money away from schools.

He said: “Are we really going to take money away from maintained schools who have got excessive surpluses?

“As long as there is some kind of setup in the system whereby someone is checking they are spending the money on the students that are in their care and support and who are their responsibility.”

Alan Rosen, headteacher at Aylesbury High School added: “The reality is Bucks has never managed to get a single penny back from a single school.

“I appreciate a bit of money would be helpful, I think the few people in that position might say we are going to build another classroom in six years’ time, it would be difficult to say ‘no you are not.’”

Director of education at the county council Sarah Callaghan, raised concerns there is “no new money becoming available” for Bucks schools.

However the forum agreed to continue monitoring cases of excessive surpluses, while boards of governors will be asked to provide plans for reserve funds, rather than claw back cash.