THE General Election is causing Halton schools "considerable uncertainty" over their budgets for next year.

Councils would normally learn how much money they would receive from central government for schools around December 18, enabling them to prepare individual schools' budgets in good time for the next financial year.

But the Department for Education has claimed that rules restricting civil service action during election campaigns mean that funding allocations might not be revealed until the new year, which would leave schools rushing to prepare their budgets by April 1.

Halton Council’s finance chief, Cllr Mike Wharton, said this made it "extremely difficult" for schools to plan for the coming year.

Cllr Wharton told the LDRS: "The General Election has meant that the announcement of the schools' block grant funding by the DfE has been delayed and it is not known when it might now be received, but it could well be into January 2020.

"The Council has undertaken as much preparatory work as possible in advance of calculating the Schools' budgets, but now awaits the announcement of the grant funding.

"The Schools Forum has been informed of the delay and the potential implications.

"Halton Council's schools forum is due to discuss next year's funding allocations at a meeting on Wednesday (December 11), but a report prepared for the forum states that the election has prevented the release of census data needed to calculate school grants.

The report blamed the "purdah" rules, which prevent government resources being used to benefit individual political parties during an election campaign, although civil service guidance says "essential business" should continue.

Cllr Wharton added: "It is not possible to calculate individual school budgets until the grant funding is announced.

"It is essential that schools receive their individual budget allocations as early as possible, ideally during January, to enable headteachers and governing bodies to plan their school's finances for the coming year and take any necessary decisions.

"This delay will therefore cause considerable uncertainty and make budget planning for schools extremely difficult, the closer it comes to the beginning of the financial year on April 1, 2020."

A Department for Education spokesman said notional allocations had been released to allow councils to begin planning school budgets, but could not comment on when the figures would be confirmed "until a government is in place following the election".