Senior judge raps UK government over school cuts

The UK government’s decision to scrap school building projects under the previous Labour government’s Building Schools for the Future programme has been ruled an ‘abuse of power’ by the High Court for its lack of consultation.

Six UK local councils have won their legal challenge to the coalition government over its decision to scrap projects that were pending under the outgoing Labour administration’s £55 billion (€66 billion; $83 billion) Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. The decision was reached in the High Court – one of the UK’s senior courts – at the end of last week.

Mr Justice Holman allowed the challenges from councils in Sandwell, Waltham Forest, Luton, Nottingham, Kent and Newham because, he said, Education Secretary Michael Gove had unlawfully failed to consult them before making the cuts. Holman said: “However pressing the economic problems, there was no overriding public interest which precluded consultation or justifies the lack of any consultation.”

In relation to five of the six councils, the judge said the failure to consult was “so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power”. He also called on Gove to reconsider his actions.

A spokesman for the Department of Education told the BBC: “The Secretary of State will now look again at his decision with regard to these authorities with an open mind, taking representations from them. The judge set out, however, that ‘the final decision on any project still rests with him and…no one should gain false hope from this decision.”

The government scrapped the bulk of the BSF scheme in July last year as part of its spending review designed to achieve cuts in public spending. While 706 projects were complete or had reached financial close (and were allowed to continue to completion), a total of 715 projects that had not yet launched were cancelled. The BSF scheme had aimed to rebuild or refurbish all of England’s secondary schools by 2023.

A significant number of BSF projects had been procured through the UK’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI) and the decision was seen as a major blow to the PFI market. Gove claimed the programme had been “characterised by massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.