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Tory councils sign up to legal challenge against Pickles

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At least four Liberal Democrat or Conservative-controlled councils have signed up to a judicial review against ministers’ decision to take council cash to fund the academies programme, court papers have revealed.  

Tory-controlled Blackpool BC and Dudley MBC and Liberal Democrat-run Newcastle and Portsmouth city councils are part of a 23-strong council group challenging communities secretary Eric Pickles, according to a claim form lodged with the High Court.

The councils join 13 Labour-controlled councils and four councils which are currently of no overall political control.

Sandwell MBC or Coventry City Council are yet to join the challenge despite previously indicating intentions to do so, although it is expected that more councils could still sign up.

As LGC revealed, Bevan Brittan, the law firm acting for a group of councils, served Mr Pickles with official documents which 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. 

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.

Full list of councils taking part in the challenge and their political control before 5 May elections

Conservative

  • Blackpool BC
  • Dudley MBC

Liberal Democrat

  • Newcastle City Council
  • Portsmouth City Council

No overall control

  • Blackburn with Darwen BC
  • Bradford MBC
  • Thurrock Council
  • Warrington BC

Labour

  • Camden LBC
  • Durham Council
  • Ealing LBC
  • Enfield LBC  
  • Gateshead Council
  • Hackney LBC
  • Hounslow LBC
  • Leicester City Council
  • Lewisham LBC
  • Sunderland City Council
  • Tower Hamlets LBC
  • Wakefield MBC
  • Waltham Forest LBC
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