The main subject under discussion at today's education scrutiny committee was how to pay for new schools and how much contribution should developers be expected to make.
The issue is a complex one but, put simply, if a developer builds lots of new houses then there is likely to be additional pressure on local schools in the form of new pupils and the need for more space to teach them in. In extreme cases there might be the need for an entire new school.
At the moment, Cornwall Council takes an education contribution of £1825 per qualifying dwelling. (In simple terms, a qualifying dwelling is one which is sold on the open market rather than being provided as an 'affordable home'.) At the other end of the scale, the committee was told that Essex County Council takes a contribution of £17,000 per open market dwelling. The proposal for Cornwall is to increase the requirement to £2736. That still wouldn't provide the full amount that it takes to provide the education and classrooms, but it is a better contribution and eases the burden on taxpayers who have to provide the rest through local tax.
The concern is that many developers are not paying their full share because of the current state of the housing market. If the houses are built then there will still be the pupils, but some developers are claiming that the demands for contributions threaten the viability of the building project. But any amount that a developer doesn't have to pay is an extra cost that taxpayers do.
So I asked the committee to agree a statement calling on developers to pay their fair share and they agreed to do so. In due course the housing market will pick up and developers will be better able to afford the education contribution that Cornwall needs from them. Although Cornwall needs more affordable homes, it might be better to see developments delayed than to heap much larger demands on Cornish taxpayers.