Schools 'need help to pay heating bills'

SCHOOL have demanded greater financial help to ease crippling energy costs which they fear could put teachers' jobs at risk.

Dave Gooderham

SCHOOL have demanded greater financial help to ease crippling energy costs which they fear could put teachers' jobs at risk.

The EADT has learned that schools are calling on Suffolk County Council to increase energy budgets - in line with the Government's help for the elderly - as bills rocket by up to 30% on previous years.

Richard Kemp, county councillor and a school governor, said the matter was of grave concern to schools attempting to balance their already precarious finances.

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And he revealed that one primary school could currently only afford the massive increases if it made redundancies - something which union bosses said must be avoided at all costs.

Mr Kemp, a governor at Glemsford Primary School, said: “Like everywhere, energy costs in schools have gone through the roof. I think if central government can dish out some money to elderly people then this should also happen in local government.

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“I want the county council to recognise that energy costs have catapulted and with schools already running on tight budgets, they need help and some extra cash.”

Mr Kemp claimed all schools had been warned by the county council to expect an average 30% rise on their estimated energy bills after summer price hikes by power firms - including British Gas, which put up prices for some customers by a massive 35%.

But Glemsford Primary School is among many which have struggled to meet this increase and risks having to look at cuts elsewhere, including redundancies, he said.

Keith Anderson, National Association of Schoolmasters and Union of Women Teachers county secretary, said he would be deeply concerned by any loss of jobs caused by the budget black holes left by soaring fuel costs.

He said: “We know that the money going into schools certainly won't reflect a 30% rise in fuel bills but we would be opposed to any job loses for teachers as a result of any financial shortfall because it will impact on the education of students.

“In the first instance we would need budgets to be looked at very carefully to find alternative savings which would ensure no job losses and no impact on education standards as well as no impact on the already huge workload of teachers.”

Nigel Evans, headteacher at Clare Middle School, said the county council had increased part of the budget to reflect rising energy costs but had not gone far enough: “Part of the problem is that we have to do the budgets retrospectively. We set aside an estimate of £16,000 in last year's budget but that was based on previous costings and we know the cost is going to be significantly higher.”

Vicky Neale, head at County Upper School in Bury St Edmunds, said she had increased her fuel budget to £80,000 - from £68,000 last year- to cope with rising costs. However, she said smaller schools would find it considerably harder to juggle their finances in such a way.

Graham White, National Union of Teachers (NUT) Suffolk division secretary, said he was not surprised schools were facing cuts in staff: “This is the first instance I have heard of a school that may have to considerer this but it doesn't come as a great shock and this problem will hit small primaries a lot more than bigger secondary schools.

“The bigger schools have much greater flexibility in their budgets. But the primary schools may have to look at staff cuts. It's really unfortunate and I'm not sure how we get round it - especially as the county council budgets are also being cut. Primary schools run very close budgets and don't have a huge surplus - any increase in costs is going to be a problem.”

A spokesman for Suffolk County Council said: “School budgets are year-on-year faced with increasing cost pressures in various areas of spending. Without doubt one of the areas in the current year is increased costs related to energy for heat and light and general power consumption.

“Although energy costs are an issue, this does represent a relatively small proportion of overall school expenditure. Suffolk County Council will continue to pass on to schools the maximum increase in funding made available from the Government, and we would expect that therefore any cost pressures will be manageable.”

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