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Successful challenge to BSF cancellation

Six councils have won their High Court challenge over the Government’s decision to scrap a number of school building projects in different parts of the country.

The axe fell last July when Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme was drastically curtailed after the coalition took power.

BSF was among the first education schemes in England to be cut back by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Today Mr Justice Holman, sitting in London, allowed the challenges by the councils, declaring Mr Gove had unlawfully failed to consult them before imposing the cuts.

In five of the cases the failure was “so unfair as to amount to an abuse of power”, said the judge.

The victorious authorities include Waltham Forest Council, Luton Borough Council, Nottingham City Council, Sandwell Council, Kent County Council and Newham Council.

The judge said: “However pressing the economic problems, there was no overriding public interest which precluded consultation or justifies the lack of any consultation.”

Mr Gove’s decision-making process was also unlawful “because of his failure to discharge relevant statutory equality duties under the Sex Discrimination Act, Race Relations Act and Disability Discrimination Act.”

As part of BSF, every secondary school in England was due to be rebuilt or refurbished over a 15-20 year period at an estimated cost of £55 billion.

Mr Gove said the programme had been beset by “massive overspends, tragic delays, botched construction projects and needless bureaucracy”.

He also described it as “a dysfunctional process” before making the cuts.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “We are delighted that the judge did not call into question the decision to end the wasteful and bureaucratic Building Schools for the Future programme.

“On the substantive points he concluded that it was a rational decision and that the authorities involved had no expectation of being allowed to proceed with their projects.”

Mr Gove will now look again at his decision with regard to these authorities with an open mind, taking representations from them, he said.