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Legal action proposed over scrapping of BSF projects

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Councils hit by the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future (BSF) are considering plans for a joint legal challenge of the coalition government’s decision to scrap the £55bn programme.

Sandwell MBC wants to lead the action over the fairness of education secretary Michael Gove’s decision last month to stop more than 700 proposed school building and refurbishment projects.

Nottingham City Council, Coventry City Council and Wigan MBC are understood to be considering joining the group action.

Mr Gove’s original, incorrect list of projects affected by the cancellation appeared to spare Sandwell, but the corrected version stopped work on nine schools. Coventry has 21 frozen projects; Nottingham seven; and Wigan five.

Sandwell’s deputy leader Steve Eling (Lab) said crucial questions remained about the justification and fairness of the government’s decision.

“A judicial review would throw some light on that, and it makes sense for local authorities to club together for it,” he said.

Cllr Eling said the imposition of a retrospective cancellation date of 1 January was a particular issue for all councils, as was the issue of any legal advice about the Department for Education’s susceptibility to a legal challenge over its decisions.

Sandwell is planning to host a summit for councils that have been the victim of BSF cancellations early next month.

Mark Greenburgh, head of local government at Wragge & Co, said legal action could cost £100,000 to £150,000 and the same again to defend an appealed victory.

But he added that the dynamic of a group bid was likely to be different from fairness cases presented by particular councils based on the condition of local schools and their investment in the programme.

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