UP TO £94m will have to be borrowed by local government in order to fund new and replacement schools across Somerset.

Somerset County Council has reaffirmed its commitment to deliver 24 major schools projects in the coming years, comprising 14 new schools and “improvements to current capacity” on 10 other sites.

But out of every pound to be spent on these projects, less than 14 pence will come from central government, with the council having to borrow the rest.

Opposition councillors have welcomed the new schools but criticised the level of borrowing being undertaken.

Between now and 2022, a total of £109,372,000 will be spent on capital projects – such as building new schools and replacing existing buildings.

Of this, an estimated £15m will come from central government through the Schools Basic Need Grant and the Schools Condition Allocation.

This leaves just more than £94m which will have to be borrowed by the council through the Public Works Loan Board, which allows local authorities to borrow money for capital projects at low interest rates.

READ: Plans progress for £9million expansion of school in Taunton

Lizzie Watkin, the council’s chief accountant, said in her written report that this scale of building was needed in order to provide enough space for new pupils.

She said: “In year one much of the design and planning will take place, with the majority of the build [taking place] in year two.

“The programme of works is required to deliver sufficient, fit for purpose school places for all children in Somerset and meet our statutory duty.”

The amount being borrowed could rise to £120m when the council’s other capital projects, such as road improvements, are taken into account.

These figures were agreed at the full council meeting held at Taunton Rugby Club on Wednesday morning (May 16).

Council leader David Fothergill said he “would continue to push the government for a fairer funding system” to ensure Somerset schools had the funding and resources they needed.

Yeovil Express:

Council opposition leader Jane Lock said that she welcomed the new schools but criticising the level and manner of the borrowing.

She said: “Of course we welcome plans to build schools. Our children deserve the best start in life and an excellent environment for learning.

“However, plans to borrow £120m have been agreed with no indication of financial help from the government, or clear plans of how the interest payments will be met.”

Ms Lock said that taxpayers would be “paying twice” for the council’s spending plans, claiming that the council had sold nearly £80m of Somerset’s assets before imposing a hefty council tax rise.

She said: “All this is imposed while the council remains on the list of the three authorities most likely to go bankrupt in the whole country.

“We cannot support this further raid on hard pressed family finances when council taxpayers have clearly already paid more than their share.”

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported in March that the council’s reserves had fallen by 60 per cent since 2012, and that Somerset, Norfolk and Lancashire’s councils were “exhibiting some of the warning signs” which preceded the collapse of Northamptonshire County Council in February.

The council defended its position in March, stating that some of the fall in reserves was caused by the fallout of the 2013/14 floods, and claiming that the savings delivered this year will lead to a balanced budget.