Cambridgeshire schools still face ‘huge challenge’ to balance books
Schools will face their “biggest challenge” balancing the books as early projections suggest the government’s increase in funding will fall well below inflation, councillors heard.
The move has raised “significant concerns” over whether local education authority Cambridgeshire County Council will have “sufficient funding” to meet inflation demands.
Early funding formula data for the coming academic year was presented to the council’s children and young people committee. Cambridgeshire will receive an uplift of 2.9 per cent or £11.8m for 2022-2023 although these figures will not be confirmed until January. Inflation in November was 4.5 per cent.
But schools will continue to see an increase in energy prices and additional costs due to the pandemic that have not been funded. It is also expected that next year there will be a “significant uplift” in pay coming for staff to represent the rising cost of living.
Director of education Jonathan Lewis said this represented the “biggest challenge” for schools that will “extremely hamper any growth”.
“We’re not viewing this as growth – we’re viewing it as a contribution towards keeping budgets at cash levels. It’s going to be a huge concern for all that we’re not going to have sufficient funding to fund inflation,” he said.
Martin Wade, the council’s strategic finance business partner, added that there were other issues as schools are funded per pupil.
He said: “You are going to have some schools which are going to have a falling roll and therefore will see cash reductions compared to previous years. Those schools are going to be under particular pressure.”
Mr Wade said there is “no protection” for schools with a falling roll and as a result the cost pressures for some will be “quite significant”.
Cambridgeshire politicians have long fought for a fairer deal for school funding in the county, which is slowly closing the gap with other, better funded authorities.
According to the data next academic year, the county will sit at 137 out of 151 authorities compared with 145 this year. The gap compared to Peterborough has also reduced. Previously it received over £500 more per pupil than Cambridgeshire. The gap is now around £300. But the gap compared to London authorities is still at several thousands of pounds.
The funding formula will also lead to an increase of 6.5 per cent in the ‘high needs block’, which funds pupils with additional needs. But this is below the maximum of eight per cent that the government can offer.