Five Islands School will pay £15,000 per year for use of the Queen Elizabeth II Sports Hall after academisation, less than half its current fee.
Following an "exhausting" 35-minute debate during the meeting of Full Council on November 8th, Members reluctantly voted to agree the amount, subject to various conditions.
The £15,000 was arrived at after several months of negotiations between the Academy and Nicola Stinson, the Council’s Senior Manager for Strategic Development. The issue represents the “final piece of the jigsaw” holding up the Academisation process.
The Sports Hall was originally built as a joint facility for educational and community use. The school currently has exclusive use between 9am and 5pm on weekdays during term time.
Nicola revealed that the Academy had been guided in its negotiations by the Department for Education (DfE), which had looked at rental contributions for similar schools around the country and found them to be in the range of £6,000 to £8,000.
She said: "£15,000 is quite a significant drop from the existing arrangements where the rental income from the school has been around about the £36,000 per year mark [falling to £30,000 for 2018/19]. It will create a budget pressure and we have worked with the school to think what the opportunities might be from what I call this crisis - with a crisis comes opportunity and challenge so what are we going to do about this budget pressure this year and moving forwards?"
She said it would be necessary to look at costs and add to the Sports Hall's income with more activities, including at lunchtime between noon and 2pm when the school had agreed not to use it.
Cllr Steve Sims acknowledged that the amount is a "severe reduction" but said the negotiations had been extensive and that both positions are now fortified. Cllr Fran Grottick agreed, saying that the Council is obligated to do all it can to facilitate the academisation process and she did not wish to cause a further delay.
However, other Councillors were very unhappy with the proposed agreement.
Cllr Dan Marcus said: "I think it’s a bit shortsighted from the Academy and the DfE because this money will have to be saved from Council services elsewhere. Part of these savings will probably be from our delivery of services to young people.”
He added that he was frustrated with the DfE and “their lack of understanding is probably a polite way of putting it”.
Cllr Avril Mumford said: "It's a lot of money to lose. The actual cost of running the Sports Hall is £50,000 a year and this is £15,000 off. Are you going to make up that money? It’s really not going to pay for itself if this reduction goes through."
Cllr Jonathan Smith said: "This is a pretty big turnaround for the Academy, who were looking to take on the Sports Hall and are now looking to rent it off us. I think that needs to be noted. I do feel we’re being pressed into a position we don’t want to be in and the budget pressure is very significant. I feel very, very challenged to support this position."
Cllr Joel Williams asked where the funds from solar panels on the Sports Hall roof will go, saying: "If we as the Council are incurring all the costs, all the liabilities, it seems a bit generous to give them half the income from the roof. I take the point that we are in the endgame of the academisation marathon - ultra marathon - and I would like to draw it to a conclusion so I don’t want us to end up dragging it on another few months alienating the Academy and the DfE for the sake of that, but I do think we need to have a firm conversation about those expenses."
After pointing out that the school had insisted on the Sports Hall being the size it is when it was built, Cllr Harry Legg said: "Perhaps a school on mainland could get similar deal far cheaper but the Academy is taking on the school and as a business it should take on the commitments that the previous business made. A fair share, which would presumably be half the annual running costs, would seem only fair to me.”
Cllr Andy Guy said the Council "has a duty of care to the community and £15,000 in my book is not enough”.
Nicola attempted to offer reassurance that the reduction in income can be recouped through a combination of cutting costs and better marketing of Active Scilly. She said: "That’s my challenge for next year. This is a catalyst for a different attitude of how we go about promoting the activities [at the Sports Hall]. The team are up for that, looking at a variety of actives across all age ranges."
Councillors finally voted by a margin of 5 to 4 (and one abstention) to agree the £15,000 fee, as well as that the income from the solar panels will revert to the Council and that Nicola will draw up a tenant/user agreement between the school and Sports Hall.
Council chairman Robert Francis said before moving on to the next item on the agenda: "That was an exhausting one."