Thursday, January 28, 2010

New Schools in Yeovil & Somerset Council Cuts

Yeovil Express is reporting today that, among a slew of proposed cuts to the Somerset County education budget, is money to support the building of 3 new schools in the planned Key Sites around Yeovil (Lufton, Brimsmore, & Lyde Road). The slightly over-dramatised prose notes that the cuts involve:

• Axing budgets allocated to support the development of new schools in Yeovil – at Thorne Lane, Lufton and Brimsmore.

Locals will be aware that these 3 sites have all been on the back burner for a while, though goverment money for affordable housing has kick-started the Lyde Road site, but only for the first 220-odd houses. Locals will also notice that Thorne Lane and Brimsmore are actually the same site (!), and the Express has forgotten about Lyde Road. Sadly, that's been the case with that development from early days, but that's another story.

Somerset is looking to cut £40m from its annual budget, a cut of 10%, connected to a freeze in council tax. The schools cuts are part of a wider programme, with roughly half the cuts coming from capital and half from spending budgets. There's plenty of background papers for the council meeting making this decision next week, and I'm not entirely sure which one to look at (!). If this is simply putting the schools funding back a few years, that's eminently sensible: the housing isn't going to be built within the original forecast, so the money for the school won't be needed for several more years. Alternatively if the budget includes a certain amount set aside into the capital fund each year for new schools, and that's being cut back, then there won't be enough money there to build the schools when they're required.

This may be a bit of a spanner in some local work we're hoping to do in building a sense of community and belonging on the new estates. The loss (or delay) of a key focal building and gathering place will make this a bit tougher.

The wider financial picture doesn't look good - the council is looking at redundancies, attempting to balance its budget, and unsure what level of government support will be there for councils after the election. It's a fair guess that it'll be lower. One of the fruits of the debt crunch is that we may have to get used to our councils doing less for us than before, or charging more to do the same things. The latter isn't really an option in the current climate. It's going to be tough.

(Ps I note with interest that the Labour candidate for Yeovil has set up a website Somerset Conservative Watch. Not much there as yet, but it'll probably increase as May approaches.)

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