Sheffield schools face £45 million repairs backlog – with “phenomenally low” £3.4m budget

School buildings in Sheffield need £45 million of high-priority maintenance when there is only a “phenomenally low” £3.4m in the city council budget to cover costs.
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Emergency issues such as the discovery of potentially dangerous RAAC ‘crumbly concrete’ at Abbey Lane School in Woodseats have added to the problem, and other schools have buckets in corridors and buildings being ‘propped up’.

The issue was highlighted at a meeting of Sheffield City Council’s education, children and families policy committee (February 26).

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Coun Mohammed Mahroof pointed to the figures and said: “I know that we’re doing the best that we possibly can but the condition of buildings and the amount of money that we’ve actually got – clearly there’s a huge discrepancy there and there’s no way we can be maintaining them as well as we should be maintaining them.

Abbey Lane Primary School in Woodseats, Sheffield, where £500,000 of emergency work was needed to cope with dangerous RAAC 'crumbly concrete'Abbey Lane Primary School in Woodseats, Sheffield, where £500,000 of emergency work was needed to cope with dangerous RAAC 'crumbly concrete'
Abbey Lane Primary School in Woodseats, Sheffield, where £500,000 of emergency work was needed to cope with dangerous RAAC 'crumbly concrete'

“What is the criteria for maintaining buildings – is it just complete health and safety issues? Because all that we’re doing at the moment is that we know the number is high, the amount of repairs is needed is fairly high but we don’t have the funding.

“And as buildings deteriorate even further, that number will keep changing as we move forward, and I’m assuming there will be a strategy for this but it’s very much dependent upon how much money we get in and we get a lot of schools in difficult situations.”

Worries

He was told that £45m just covers the most pressing issues for the 64 maintained schools in the city for which the council is responsible – the total bill is £100m.

Coun Mohammed Mahroof, member of Sheffield City Council's education, children and families policy committee, commented on the overstretched budget for school repairs and maintenance. Picture: Sheffield Council webcastCoun Mohammed Mahroof, member of Sheffield City Council's education, children and families policy committee, commented on the overstretched budget for school repairs and maintenance. Picture: Sheffield Council webcast
Coun Mohammed Mahroof, member of Sheffield City Council's education, children and families policy committee, commented on the overstretched budget for school repairs and maintenance. Picture: Sheffield Council webcast
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Coun Mahroof replied: “You’re saying that the backlog is £45m and we only have £3m that we can actually spend, which works out at about £40,000 per school – which is a phenomenally low figure, isn’t it?

“So what happens if there’s a major crisis with one of the schools, which it can be – RAAC has been one of them recently. Do we then bring the budget through from somewhere else into this area?”

Meredith Dixon-Teasdale, strategic director of children’s services, said it was a case of moving things around and making very difficult decisions. She said that she had visited three special schools with deficit budgets where there are worries about safety issues.

Coun Dawn Dale, chair of Sheffield City Council's children, education and families policy committee. Picture: Sheffield LabourCoun Dawn Dale, chair of Sheffield City Council's children, education and families policy committee. Picture: Sheffield Labour
Coun Dawn Dale, chair of Sheffield City Council's children, education and families policy committee. Picture: Sheffield Labour

“Absolutely, you need to make the decisions that ensure safety and that’s what we’re looking at the whole time, it’s how we ensure safety rather than the things that would maintain a building for longer, such as changing the windows.”

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She added: “It’s not the council have decided we haven’t the funding, it’s just that prioritisation that needs to happen all the time.”

Uncertainty

Coun Paul Turpin asked: “So are we just waiting for those schools to be academised or are we waiting for a new government or is there a plan to tackle it – is there a plan to borrow that funding or what is the plan?”

Ms Dixon-Teasdale said there is uncertainty about what will happen in the next year.

She added that she has visited Mossbrook Special School, which is a “typical 50s building with many smallish rooms”.

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“The level of need that school is meeting now is very complex, some of the building means that it’s really difficult for the school to maintain,” she said.

“It didn’t meet the DfE (Department for Education) threshold, so how do we make sure that it is absolutely a school that’s fit for purpose for our children?”

Committee chair Coun Dawn Dale said that, while the DfE refused funding for Mossbrook, the council does have a rebuilding programme for six new primary schools.

Buckets

She added: “We will continue to do that but what I would say is that I’ve also been into academies who have got new buildings whose roofs are leaking. It’s not necessarily about old maintained buildings maintained by the council, it’s a buildings issue and that’s across the board, really. ”

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Referring to the RAAC issue, she said: “We had to sort out the roof at Abbey Lane. We made that decision based on health and safety of children and staff and that cost us over £500,000 which came from that £3.4m.”

Coun Dale said she has written to the secretary of state for education, Gillian Keegan, and said that the council’s application for reimbursement is being considered.

“We’re a baby step nearer to actually hopefully being able to bring that money back so that we can continue to do the work in our other schools where we’ve got buckets in corridors, things propping up buildings, kids in jumpers.

“Although I have been to some fantastic schools where they may have buckets in some corridors but they still do amazing work.”

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The rebuilding funding covers Brunswick, Pipworth, Lydgate Junior, Carfield, Ballifield and Lowfield primary schools.

Flabbergasted

Coun Dale said she is in favour of the whole capital budget for education, children and young people’s services that the committee was being asked to approve, especially children’s social care.

“We are in a position, like most councils across the country, where children’s costs for social care could be the breaking point of any council and we do spend a lot sending our children and young people into provision which is really expensive, because our children and young people need looking after.

“However, we do have a 10-year strategy when it comes to our sufficiency for children’s social care. As part of that, it will look at how we bring in-house some of our own social care services – so how we look for properties and how we develop that.

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She said that she is “sometimes quite flabbergasted at the amount we have to spend on our children and young people. However, we will spend that money because our children and young people need looking after and that is our absolute priority.”

The programme also includes support for school places, expanding provision for children with SEND needs and services for looked-after children.