DfE ‘repurposes’ cash for £500m energy efficiency fund

The £500 million government fund to “future-proof” school buildings by making them more energy efficient has been “repurposed” from an underspend in capital cash.

Ministers this week announced the money to help schools and colleges save on heating and electricity bills.

Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said they were “putting this cash in the hands of school and college leaders quickly, so they can decide what is needed and so that our brilliant teachers can focus on teaching in a warm and safe environment”.

The Department for Education told Schools Week the funding was not new money but came from capital programme underspends this financial year.

The money was being “repurposed”, but “existing programmes will continue unchanged”.

A spokesperson said the capital budget – £6.4 billion for 2022-23 – was “managed carefully through the year” so that any underspends “can be reprioritised to get the best value for money”.

But they were unable to provide a more detailed breakdown of the unused cash.

Don’t end energy bill support, say heads

Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the investment would “not pay energy bills in the immediate future”.

“We are deeply concerned that the government intends to end the energy relief scheme that is currently in place to help schools and colleges meet rising costs at the end of March.

“Removing this support will expose them to massive increases in energy bills that are simply unaffordable, and this will necessitate cuts in educational provision. Funding for energy efficiency upgrades is a longer-term undertaking and will not address the present crisis.”

Gillian Keegan

The funding will be made available to schools through the devolved formula capital allocations in this financial year.

Schools can decided how best to invest the cash. They also have “discretion” to spend it on other capital projects if that is appropriate “based on local circumstances”.

DfE analysis shows repairing or replacing all defects in England’s schools would cost £11.4 billion.

Keegan said the war in Ukraine was driving up energy prices “so it is important to look at the things we can do to make classrooms more energy efficient and resilient to price fluctuations.”

But the government confirmed that schools would no longer benefit from capped costs under the energy price guarantee after spring.

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