'˜Excessive spending' on luxuries plunging Wakefield schools into cash crisis

Excessive spending on luxuries is partly to blame for cash shortages of up to £50,000 at six schools in Wakefield.

A new report shows the gulf in the finances of academies across the district.

A total of 52 local schools are enjoying healthy surpluses, including five who have more than £250,000 in the bank.

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Meanwhile, the half-a-dozen institutions in the red have a combined deficit of £140,000.

The schools have not been named in the report, which will be discussed at a meeting of Wakefield Council’s schools forum on Thursday.

Half of the six have cash shortages of between £20,000 and £50,000. For the rest the deficit is less than £20,000.

The report says:  “For all schools that are in a deficit position, individual three year budget recovery plans are in the process of being compiled. These will then be subject to formal review throughout the year.”

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Among the reasons listed for the financial troubles are long-term staff absences that are not covered by insurance and high staff-to-pupil ratios.

But the report also said that, “excessive levels of spending on ‘nice-to-have’ goods/services and/or excess staffing structures” are responsible.

Of the 52 schools with a surplus, 39 have a bank balance of between £50,000 and £100,000.

The report adds: “Many schools (where circumstances allow) are adopting a more prudent approach and endeavouring to establish a ‘contingency’

to guard against any reductions in their core funding.”

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Others have established contingency funds to cover for unforeseen events such as redundancies, sickness and voluntary retirements, it is said.

The academies programme, which were first established under New Labour  but then rapidly expanded by David Cameron’s government, allows schools to generate their own cash from the private sector.

They are not subject to council control and can set their own curriculums and teacher pay structure.

The vast majority of schools across the country are now run as academies.

David Spereall , Local Democracy Reporting Service