Labour warns of soaring school energy bills
The Labour Party has warned that soaring energy bills will leave schools “struggling to keep the lights on”.
Shadow schools minister Stephen Morgan warned during education questions in the Commons that rising costs would squeeze stretched budgets.
Analysis of the latest data by the House of Commons library has found that average energy prices for schools nearly doubled in the first quarter of this year.
Energy prices for schools have risen by 83% compared with 2020/21.
Ministers must set out their plans to support schools and ensure rising costs do not lead to further disruption for children in the classroom
Mr Morgan said: “The Government’s failure to get a grip on spiralling energy prices is leaving schools struggling to keep the lights on.
“School budgets are already stretched to breaking point. Ministers must set out their plans to support schools and ensure rising costs do not lead to further disruption for children in the classroom.
“Labour would build a Britain where children come first, but the Tories are standing by as children lose out.”
Schools are facing more pressures on their budgets from rising national insurance and inflation, driving up the cost of food.
The Department for Education has said heads should manage costs from core school funding, but the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned that per pupil funding levels will remain equal to 2010 despite rising prices.
Absolutely massive hikes in energy bills... are putting strained budgets under intolerable pressure
The Government said schools may have entered into an energy contract before the data gathering, so they might not be paying 83% more.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are hearing from schools and trusts of absolutely massive hikes in energy bills which are putting strained budgets under intolerable pressure.
“We are talking about increases of up to 300% or more in some cases.
“The impact is devastating. It will wipe out reserves which are earmarked for investment such as capital projects, and result in cutbacks having to be made elsewhere.
“These extra costs are on top of other financial pressures such as pay awards for the next academic year, and the fact that schools and colleges have received inadequate Government funding for many years.
“In addition, we are currently seeing a spike in Covid cases which is resulting in more staff absences and increased costs for supply cover.”
Mr Barton said he feared that this would happen “over and over again in the winter”.
“The financial situation facing schools and colleges is very worrying and the Government is completely burying its head in the sand and insisting that there is ‘head room’ to cover these costs.
“That is simply not the case and there needs to be urgent additional financial support put into the education sector. We simply cannot go on lurching from crisis to crisis.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We know schools are facing cost pressures, in particular rising energy bills.
“Cost increases should be seen in the wider context of funding for schools. In 2022-23, core schools funding will increase by £4bn compared to 2021-22 – a 7% cash terms per pupil boost. This will help schools to meet wider cost pressures, including energy prices.
“We are also providing schools with tools to help them get the best value for money from their resources, including recommended deals for energy costs and services related to energy.”
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