Proceedings for a council-led judicial review against ministers’ decision to take council cash to fund the academies programme begins today, LGC can reveal, with a High Court showdown before summer recess a possibility.
Bevan Brittan, the law firm acting for a group of councils, will serve communities secretary Eric Pickles with official documents which will give him 21 days to respond from Thursday 5 May.
The move follows the Local Government Association’s lawyers sending a pre-application letter for judicial review to the Department for Communities & Local Government last month relating to a “grossly unfair” amount of cash being taken off councils to fund the central functions of the academies programme.
LGA group leaders met on 28 April and agreed the LGA would facilitate the action on behalf of a group of councils – but not act as a claimant itself.
In the documents, Mr Pickles is named as the defendant, while education secretary Michael Gove is named as an interested party. Lawyers have called for a High Court date for the hearing to be made available before the summer recess.
The group is thought to comprise between 20 and 30 affected upper-tier authorities, including Coventry and Portsmouth City Councils and Sandwell MBC.
A Bevan Brittan statement said the claim was in reference to revenue support grant for local authorities being reduced by £148m in connection with the funding of services for academy schools.
The statement added: “The subject of the challenge is reduction of the amount of Revenue Support Grant for 2011-12 contained in the Local Government Finance Report (England) 2011-12.
“The claimants argue that this reduction is, amongst other things, in breach of the New Burdens Rules.
“The claimants seek an order that the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government ensures that additional grants are paid, so that any reduction in funding for local authorities does not exceed a proper estimate, made following appropriate consultation, of the amount of savings to local authorities resulting from the conversion of maintained schools to academies.”
Commercial dispute resolution partner Emily Heard will lead the Bevan Brittan team.