THE alarm bell has been rung over the state of Cumbria’s schools following a £2 million funding cut for maintenance.

Government cash to Cumbria County Council for repairs to the “ageing” school estate, has fallen from £6.7m to just £4.7m in five years, a meeting heard.

In future, some county schools could be forced to close or seal off areas to pupils unless more funding is forthcoming, warned senior county councillors.

Cumbria County Council is responsible for 186 schools – 169 primaries, 10 secondaries, four special needs schools and three pupil referral units.

A meeting of the Labour and Liberal Democrat-run cabinet has heard how the council has borrowed millions to top up the shortfall in maintenance.

However, a sum of £16.4 million has not been enough to provide pupils with a 21st-century learning environment, councillors complained.

They now plan to meet with the county’s six MPs to ramp up the pressure on the Government.

County council cabinet member Cllr David Southward said schools faced challenges now and in the future to make them safe, wind and watertight.

“Over the next few years, this challenge is set to increase as we anticipate further reductions in central Government funding for schools maintenance,” said Cllr Southward (Lab, Egremont), who is in charge of property at the council.

“As we continue to grapple with an ageing estate in the context of Government austerity, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the county council to find the money to top up the underfunding from central Government.

“I regret to say that unless there are changes in the funding available, there exists a very real risk that schools may have to close due to a lack of basic maintenance necessary to keep our children safe.”

Council leader Stewart Young (Lab, Carlisle) said it was “not scaremongering” but “telling it how it is.”

Cllr Young said: “The only sources of funding available to us is either selling other assets, although we have been doing that for a number of years and we have sold off a lot. We also have a lot of requirements to maintain other buildings, whether that’s our care homes, our fire stations or our roads. We could borrow the money but we have to find the revenue to repay it. We are running out of options and it is unsustainable.”

Liberal Democrat cabinet members Cllr Peter Thornton and Cllr Patricia Bell described the scale of cuts as “staggering and disgraceful”.

Cllr Thornton said: “A new roof costs a certain amount to fix. Buildings cost a certain amount to maintain. All the digital transformation in the world, does not affect those costs.

“What are we meant to do? Let our buildings go tatty and fall down and then they cost more to fix?”

The cabinet agreed to approach the county’s MPs to lobby Government on the council’s behalf to make the case for more funding.