Surrey schools are being advised to plan for increases in gas prices of more than 129 per cent.
Along with this, council finance teams are telling schools to plan for a 73 per cent increase in electricity prices, according to a cabinet member on Surrey County Council.
Councillor Claire Curran, the Tory-run county council’s cabinet member for education and learning, described the rises as “very significant increases”.
At a meeting of the authority’s cabinet on Tuesday (November 29), Cllr Curran said the school finance team had been working with schools on budget planning and sharing recommendations.
She said utilities generally accounted for around two per cent of a school’s budget, while the largest part of their budget goes on staffing costs, adding: “Even though there’s enormous pressure, it is for a relatively small amount of their budget.”
Many schools are on annual fixed contracts, meaning they were likely protected from the immediate pressure of increasing prices, which Cllr Curran called “a comfort for some”.
She told the meeting: “I don’t think anybody or any organisation is immune from the pressures of gas and electricity costs.”
She said the council was “comfortable” that schools were “not in immediate danger of runaway electricity or energy prices”.
Cllr Curran also highlighted the pressures faced by the county’s smaller schools, which had fewer pupils and were seeing falling birth rates in their areas.
She said schools in rural areas in particular, mostly concentrated in the south of Surrey, were under “very significant pressure” because of the way school funding is allocated on a per pupil basis.
There are 29 schools across the county with fewer than 90 pupils and 73 schools with less than one form of entry.
Cllr Curran said: “That just goes to show that when schools are funded on a per pupil basis we can understand why they’re under pressure.”
The Department for Education is increasing schools funding nationally by £1.5 billion in 2023/24 with minimum (average) per pupil funding levels being increased from £4,265 per primary pupil to £4,405 and from £5,525 per secondary pupil to £5,715.
It comes after John Winter, CEO of the Weydon Multi-Academy Trust which runs schools across the Farnham and Haslemere areas, told the Herald in September schools and colleges will struggle to make ends meet after a national teacher pay rise adds to huge energy price hikes this autumn.
The Weydon MAT’s total revenue is around £35 million across its seven schools – including Weydon, Heath End, Woolmer Hill and Rodborough secondary schools – and teacher-training college.
Around 80 per cent of that currently goes on staffing costs, leaving approximately £7 million to pay for everything else.
Weydon had feared its energy bill across its MAT schools would rise from £435,000 to £2.4m in October before the government imposed an energy cap for schools, considerably eating into school budgets.
And with Surrey County Council now warning energy bills are set to rise again in the county’s schools, and with teacher and associate staff pay rising by between five and 8.9 per cent this autumn – adding another £500,000 to Weydon’s outgoings – the trust’s CEO said more is needed.
Mr Winter added in September: “Schools in general are facing very challenging times.”