Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Pension Plans Lead to More Confrontation; Rows over Academies Will Not Go Away

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Pension Plans Lead to More Confrontation; Rows over Academies Will Not Go Away

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Tully ? 07554 437755 ? paul.tully@ncjmedia.co.uk

ANEW war of words erupted yesterday after a North East MP accused a council's ruling group of being "out of touch" with the concerns of local schools.

Hexham Tory MP Guy Opperman warned that academies converting from schools could face extra annual bills of up to PS300,000 if proposals to raise pension fund contributions go ahead.

But the Lib Dem group on Northumberland County Council says increases in contributions are essential to safeguard council taxpayers against being landed with hefty bills if "risky" academies fail.

Coun Derek Kennedy, who chairs the council's Pension Fund Panel, hit back, saying: "Our decision is the right one to protect the Northumberland County Council taxpayer from the risk of multi-million-pound losses.

"If a school wants to become an academy it's their decision, but they have to take on all the responsibilities that come with that decision, including pension provision. If they opt out of local authority control then they cannot expect the local authority to bail their pensions out if they go bust."

Mr Opperman made his criticism after leading a delegation of local head teachers and governors in a meeting with Schools Minister David Laws.

Claiming Mr Laws was "very supportive" of the group's arguments, Mr Opperman said: "Coun Kennedy and his Lib Dem colleagues are totally wrong to dismiss the concerns of local head teachers and governors on this issue.

"Some schools are very concerned that their options are being limited because of the stance this council is taking. I will not allow anyone, including the county council, to hold back our local schools. "There is no financial justification for this, as other authorities with similar age and debt profiles do not do this. Indeed, Northumberland is effectively unique in the country in its approach.

"The consequence is that any school which wants to become an academy is prevented from doing so because it would face a financial penalty in the process. …

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