Two Blackpool schools left an unpaid debt of £1.5 million when they merged to become an academy.
Collegiate and Bispham High School owed the six-figure sum after falling student numbers meant they were not bringing in enough cash to cover costs such as teachers’ wages, it has been revealed.
It is not fair that some schools are burdened with a deficit while other schools can walk away and leave that debt behind at the detriment of other schools in the community.David Simmonds
The council was forced to wipe out the £1,480,585 debt after the failing schools joined forces under government orders to become Aspire Academy.
Bosses at the town hall and Whitehall have blamed each other for the mess, which critics said could rob the resort’s youngsters of a better education.
David Simmonds, chairman of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said: “It is not fair that some schools are burdened with a deficit while other schools can walk away and leave that debt behind at the detriment of other schools in the community.
“It is not right the taxpayer foots the bill. This money could instead be spent in ways which directly benefits pupils.”
Under the Academies Act 2010, local authorities inherit a school’s debt when it is FORCED to become a sponsored academy. They must also cover the costs of conversion, including legal fees, which is thought to add up to around £500,000 in Aspire’s case.
Councils do not inherit the debt of schools that CHOOSE to become academies off their own bat.
School improvement boss at Blackpool Council Coun John Jones said: “By issuing an academy order to force the conversion, the government has forced us to pay the debt now rather than allowing us to manage it down.
“Given that we’ve suffered £93m of cuts from our budget over the last five years with a further £20m of savings needed next year, this is a further immediate cost we could have done without.
“Fortunately, however, due to sensible planning, we have a school reserves budget which meant there was no knock-on effect on other schools.”
An investigation by the BBC found more than £30m was cleared by councils nationally, with Aspire’s debt the biggest in England.
A Department for Education spokesman said it had ‘always been clear that local authorities need to work with schools to prevent deficits and surpluses becoming significant in the first place’, and it would have been ‘unfair’ to expect Aspire to take on the debt.
“Councils are only required to cover a school’s deficit when it has become a sponsored academy after a prolonged period of underperformance, and the deficit was accumulated under council control,” the spokesman said.
Blackpool North and Cleveleys MP Paul Maynard said: “Had these schools continued under local authority ownership, these debts will have remained with the council anyway.”
The Fylde Coast Academy Trust (FCAT), which was chosen as the sponsor of Aspire in 2014, declined to comment. ‘historical finances’.