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Academies 'cost councils millions'

Local councils are being forced to shell out millions of pounds to cover the costs of schools converting to academies, according to town hall bosses.

The Local Government Association (LGA) warned that it is "simply not fair" that some schools are saddled with debts, while others take on academy status and have the tab picked up by taxpayers.

In the last two years, councils have had to take at least £22.4 million out of their budgets to cover the costs of schools in their area becoming academies, an LGA analysis suggests.

The Association argued that the bill for becoming an academy - which it says can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds for each school - must be met by the Department for Education, and not be subsidised by local taxpayers when councils are already struggling with cuts of 40%.

Currently, a local council has to cover the legal costs of every academy conversion, and also has to pay the deficit costs if a school is being taken over to become a sponsored academy, the LGA claimed.

Academies are semi-independent state schools which are outside of council control, and have more say in how they are run. For example, they can set their own curriculum.

Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the LGA's children and young people board, said: "We are supportive of academies and free schools but it is simply not fair that some struggling schools are burdened with a deficit while others walk away to become academies and leave local taxpayers to foot the bill.

"Nor is it right that consultants and lawyers are making good money handling these conversions when local taxpayers expect this money to go towards other local priorities, whether that is improving other schools or fixing potholes.

"Councils already have to subsidise the costs of school places and free school meals from existing budgets. This is yet another example of central government not providing enough money to pay for its policies and of local communities being forced to pick up the tab."

A DfE spokesperson said: "Academies are a vital part of our plan for education and transforming the education of millions of pupils across the country.

"The LGA is wrong. Local authorities are only required to cover a school's deficit costs if it has become a sponsored academy after a prolonged period of underperformance.

"This underperformance has almost always taken place while the school was under the control of a council."

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