The government has been defeated in the High Court over its decision to scrap England’s school building programme. Six councils claimed Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to scrap Buildings Schools for the Future projects in six local authority areas was unfair and unlawful. Mr Gove will now look again at his decisions in these six areas.
Under the scheme, every school was to be rebuilt or revamped at a £55bn cost. Mr Gove had said the scheme was inefficient and beset by overspends. The axing of the scheme in July last year meant that at least 700 school rebuilds in England would not be going ahead. This sparked an outcry among teachers, councillors and pupils alike, many of whom had worked hard on developing the projects.
The councils – Waltham Forest, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell, Kent County Council and Newham – sought a judicial review on the grounds that the stopping of projects in their areas was arbitrary and legally flawed. They asked Mr Justice Holman to order Mr Gove to reconsider individual schemes, properly taking account of their merits.
Lawyers for the councils argued the education secretary failed to consult properly, and that he did not give adequate reasons before stopping projects. They also claimed he breached legitimate expectations that the multi-million pound schemes would be funded. But lawyers for Mr Gove argued his decisions were not made lightly and were not open to legal challenge.
In written statements put before the court, his lawyers said the coalition had inherited “the largest budget deficit in peacetime history”, and spending cuts had had to be made “quickly and significantly”. A set of general principles was applied to decide which projects were to be scrapped, but Mr Gove did not consider it “practicable or appropriate” for him to arbitrate between the claims of a large number of different authorities, or an even larger number of individual schools.