Free school bid in Chorley ‘waste of cash’

The £212,000 cost of a doomed project to open a free school in Chorley has been described as a ‘staggering waste of taxpayers’ money’.

Plans to open Chorley Career and Sixth Form Academy were abandoned just three months before it was due to open last year.

Documents obtained by the Chorley Citizen under the Freedom of Information Act show the Department for Education spent £211,821.43 on the project.

The Government later scrapped plans for the school saying it did not feel the academy could meet the required standard for value for money or offer a quality alternative to existing establishments.

The academy trust had held numerous open days to recruit students, interviewed for teachers and staff and entered plans to convert the town’s former tax office on Water Street into a temporary base.

Opposition to the school, which planned to take pupils aged 11 to 18, included an unprecedented joint letter from the heads of all seven high schools in the borough, who all said they saw no need for the academy.

Chorley MP Lindsay Hoyle said: “I am absolutely staggered and disgusted that more than £200,000 of taxpayers’ money has been wasted in this manner.

“From the outset I opposed the creation of a free school and worked with the headteachers of Chorley’s existing schools to oppose it.

“We have excellent schools here and there was never a need for a free school. To allow so much public money being directed towards this scheme was futile and wasteful.”

Lancashire County Council cabinet member for education Coun Matthew Tomlinson said he was ‘shocked and appalled’ at the money involved.

He said: “It would have been much better to have distributed this £212,000 to the existing schools in Chorley, which are all rated as good or outstanding.”

The money spent included site related expenditure of £81,800 and project management costs of £69,000.

The academy trust spent £18,000 on consultation and marketing.

Staff related costs, including the salary of the principal designate were £36,227.

The remainder of the money was made up of accommodation costs of £4,991 other administrative costs totalling £1,687.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Setting up a free school is a difficult task and we thank Chorley Career and Sixth Form Academy for all their hard work.

“Before any new schools open their doors, we have to be sure that all the conditions we set have been met. Making certain that new schools raise standards is a central aim of the free schools programme.”

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