Building Schools for the Future

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 14th February 2011.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Education 3:33 pm, 14th February 2011

I am grateful for the opportunity that this urgent question gives me to repeat the points made in my written ministerial statement of Friday.

On Friday, Mr Justice Holman handed down a judgment on the judicial review brought by six local authorities, including Waltham Forest, following my decision to cancel BSF projects in their areas. It was, of course, deeply regrettable that any building projects had to be cancelled, but the scale of the deficit we inherited meant that cuts were inevitable, and the inefficiency that characterised BSF schemes meant that we needed a new approach. All the local authorities that pursued the action agreed that cuts had to be made, but, as the judge records, they argued that

"other (unidentified) projects should have been stopped rather than theirs".

The claimants argued that Government decision making was confused and irrational, but the judge made it clear that the decisions I made were clear and rational. He said that

"the Secretary of State intended to draw, and did draw, a clear demarcation between situations where there were obligations under contract and those where there were not. The decision is not open to challenge on irrationality."

The claimants argued that the chosen cut-off date for projects was wrong, but the judge also made it clear that

"a cut-off date of January 1st reflected government-wide policy and helped to achieve that policy by making very large savings."

The claimants also argued that there was a breach of promise in stopping their specific projects, but the judge said:

"I do not consider that there was any failure...because there was no such promise or expectation."

I am grateful that on all those substantive points, the judge found as he did, in our favour.

On two procedural grounds, the judge ruled in favour of the claimants. In essence, his view is that my consultation with 14 local authorities in relation to 32 sample schools and a further 119 individual academy projects did not go far enough, and that I should have included the six claimants in my consultation. He also judged that I should have had rigorous regard to equalities considerations in reaching my decision.

The judge has not ordered a reinstatement of funding for any BSF project, nor has he ordered me to pay compensation to any of the claimants. Instead, he concluded that I must give each of them an opportunity to make representations, and then review the decision, in so far as it affects these six authorities, with an open mind. I am happy to do so. The judge has made it clear that

"the final decision on any given school or project still rests with" me, and that I

"may save all, some, a few or none".

He concluded by saying that

"no one should gain false hope from this decision".

I am grateful to the judge for that direction, for the fair and careful manner in which he appraised the evidence, and for his support for the Government on the substantive decisions that we took.