Northumberland schools maintenance backlog tops £80million

The bill for maintenance and repairs at Northumberland’s schools has soared to more than £80million, according to the latest estimates.

Tuesday, 5th October 2021, 1:17 pm
The maintenance bill for Northumberland’s schools has topped £80million.

Plans are under way to tackle the “significant backlog”, with funding allocated for dozens of projects across the county.

Even with the 48 projects identified in the latest report by education chiefs as delivered or in progress over the last 21 months totalling just £3.8million, closing the gap is still expected to be a huge task.

“It continues to be a challenge for individual schools and the local authority in maintaining the school estate,” said Sue Aviston, head of school organisation and resources at Northumberland County Council.

“We’ve currently got in excess of £57million worth of backlog maintenance costs, just within the maintained sector and not including aided church schools or academies. When you add that on, it’s probably well in excess of an £80million backlog of maintenance.

“That’s one of the real challenges for us, in terms of trying to keep our schools open, safe and watertight.”

Overall, the council has promised cash worth £101.2million to its “schools capital programme” since October 2018.

Projects including upgrades to heating systems and electrical works, as well as window and lighting replacements, are either scheduled for or have been completed at a number of schools, something which should at least help alleviate a predicted surge in energy bills this winter.

Education bosses also face demographic challenges which could add further funding pressures as pupil numbers drop.

Despite strong demand in key areas, across the county as a whole there are almost 9,000 surplus school places, presenting a challenge to grow capacity “in the right areas and at the right time”.

Aviston added: “Based on the January census, we’ve got less children in school, currently, than we’ve had in the previous five years.

“We’ve seen decline across the piece, especially in the north and west of our county – our rural communities are not getting as many young children being born as in other areas.”

Colin Pearson, chairman of the county’s Schools’ Forum, said: “I want to express my frustration that the county is responsible for making sure there’s the right number of places in the right locations.

“There are certain basic elements [which the county council] just does not have control over.”

Local Democracy Reporting Service