At today’s meeting of the County Council, Conservative Leader David Hodge told the Chamber about the rising demand for school places in Surrey and the huge pressure SCC faces in meeting this demand, year on year.
‘In September we provided 4,138 additional school places – ten times what was needed just five years ago. Although every Surrey child got their school place this year, it was tougher than ever’
David explained thatthis huge increase in pressure for school places comes as a result of Surrey’s highest ever birth rate, and, ‘to make things even trickier’, this rise has not been consistent across the county – meaning that the pressure in some areas is even greater.
Overall, it is predicted that 13,000 extra school places are needed over the next five years: the equivalent of 30 new primary schools.
SCC faces many challenges: acquiring suitable sites, in the right location; obtaining the right planning permission; rising construction costs combined with limited skills capacity in the UK construction industry is hitting Surrey hard. And, in the last few years we have seen some quite eye-watering increases in the cost of building materials and labour:
Since September 2011:
the cost of plasterwork has risen by 41%,
the cost of blockwork has risen by 50%
whilst the cost of brickwork has risen by an enormous 96%.
At the same time, in a market where demand currently outstrips supply, skilled labourers such as bricklayers, are becoming increasingly hard to come by, meaning SCC is constantly competing with a commercial sector that has greater ability to pay more – there have been reported instances where labourers have been poached from the school sites themselves by contractors on neighbouring building projects.
To recap the challenges - rising demand, complex builds, a shortage of sites, lack of skills labour and spiralling construction costs.
David also called on the Government to help Surrey County Council with the funding shortfall it faces in delivering the statutory school places:
‘The grant funding received to date has just about enabled the delivery of school places, but it is no longer enough - in 2014/15 the County Council has had to invest an additional £30m to ensure that the 4,138 Surrey Children mentioned above had a school place in September.
Based on projections for 2015/16, we will need to invest £84m to deliver an additional 3,000 schools places for September 2015 intake, yet the Council is scheduled only to receive £30m in government grant funding.
This means SCC needs a fairer funding settlement from Government of a further £54m to ensure that every Surrey child has a school place in September 2015.
Regrettably, without that £54m of fairer funding we may not be able to guarantee every Surrey child a school place in September 2015.
So, my ask of Government is simple.
‘SCC has made every effort to keep the cost of school places as low as possible. We have an expert team in place – one that has proved themselves against tight deadlines and significant pressure.
However, the scale of demand means that our funding is simply no longer enough.
We need Government funding for school places to reflect the actual costs of meeting this demand.
For 2015/16 – this would mean £84m.
Over the past few months, I have had positive discussions with a number of Surrey MPs on this important issue – and I am confident that they understand the difficulties we are facing.
I was also able to secure a meeting with the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, to make our case.
And, whilst it is not yet known what the outcome will be, it is encouraging that Government is starting to listen and opening doors to us and taking Surrey’s case seriously.’