DIY SOS – New conditions imposed on school bids for Condition Improvement Funds
The Condition Improvement Fund ("CIF") is an annual budget amount which is used to address significant repairs to school buildings, ensuring they are kept safe and in good working order. Eligible academies, sixth-form colleges and non-diocesan VA schools are invited to submit a bid for a share of the available funds so that they can fund projects to meet health and safety obligations and address building compliance issues. Within the bid, schools set out projects that the CIF will be spent on. Common examples of these projects are emergency asbestos removal, installation or repair of fire protection systems and works needed to ensure gas and electrical safety compliance.
Next year, the amount of CIF available amounts to £400m. It is worth highlighting that CIF is only available for smaller academy trusts, specifically those with fewer than 5 academies and less than 3,000 registered pupils. Instead, larger trusts receive School Condition Allocation ("SCA") and must comply with any terms and conditions imposed by the ESFA and/or supply information to satisfy any spend information requests.
The government is keen to highlight that this year's allocation criteria favours bids from schools with strong governance and sound financial management. In light of this, the new criteria has led to reports that some schools have had essential funds withheld from them – specifically, £500,000 has been kept from 17 schools seeking to make vital repairs to school buildings as they had not yet accepted a visit from a School Resource Management Adviser ("SRMA"), more widely referred to in the media as DfE "cost cutters".
In order to avoid situations like these, schools are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the new criteria outlined below:
- Excessive Pay – Trusts paying two members of staff more than £100k, or one member more than £150k, who also have evidence of underperformance, either educational or financial will have 4 points deducted outside London and 1 for those in London.
- Funding Agreement – Trusts who have signed a funding agreement after December 2014 or who are committed to moving to the latest version will be given a bonus point.
- SRMA Visits – Trusts who have had a visit within the last two years, but have failed to provide the government with an "appropriate response" will have 4 points deducted. Otherwise, a SMRA visit will be imposed as a condition of the funding on any successful applicant.
- Finances and Governance – Trusts with "financial viability concerns" and who have not yet submitted effective improvement plans will have 4 points deducted. This relates to trusts operating with deficits, whose auditors have raised concerns and trusts who have filed a late financial return more than once. Financially healthy trusts will also be penalised where they have submitted late returns.
In short, the government's message is clear. Trusts who remain acutely aware of their financial management and budgetary needs, and who conduct a self-assessment of their schools against the new allocation criteria, will be in the best possible position to submit a successful CIF bid for the next academic financial year.
This article is for general information only and does not, and is not intended to, amount to legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. If you have any questions relating to your particular circumstances, you should seek independent legal advice.