SCORES of schools across the region accused of hoarding cash are defying orders to “use it or lose it”, Government figures reveal.

A total of 146 schools across County Durham, the Tees Valley and North Yorkshire have boasted “excessive” reserves for at least two financial years.

With a harsh spending squeeze looming, ministers told them to spend the cash on teachers and equipment, instead of allowing it to sit idly in bank accounts – depriving other schools of the money.

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And town halls were ordered to claw back big surpluses from schools which failed to act, unless the funds had been allocated to projects in the pipeline.

Such a move could see tens of thousands of pounds taken from a typical primary school – and hundreds of thousands from a secondary.

But, at the end of 2008-9, 125 primaries still had savings defined as “excessive” (at least eight per cent of their budget), as did 21 secondaries (five per cent of budget).

The primaries apparently standing firm are in County Durham (42), Redcar and Cleveland (17), Middlesbrough (11), Hartlepool (seven), Darlington (two), Stockton-on-Tees (one) and North Yorkshire (45).

The biggest reserves are at Spofforth Church of England Primary, in North Yorkshire – 24.6 per cent of its budget, or £92,151 – according to the figures, published by the Department of Children, Schools and Families (DCSF).

The secondary schools breaching the rules for two successive years are in County Durham (five), Redcar and Cleveland (five), Hartlepool (three), Middlesbrough (two), Darlington (one) and North Yorkshire (five) This time, the worst “culprit”

is a Hartlepool school – Dyke House. The comprehensive has banked 15.9 per cent of its budget, £855,679.

The high number of schools raises questions for local education authorities, which may be reluctant to get tough with popular schools.

Some heads and governors have protested that the clawback threat penalises them for prudently saving money for major projects.

However, the number of schools across the region above the guidelines has shrunk from 262 a year ago, when there were 229 primaries and 67 secondaries in breach.

Across the country, Schools Minister Vernon Coaker said overall surplus balances had fallen for the first time since 2002-3, but warned they were still too high. And he gave town halls until next year to act or the Government would “consider further action”.

Mr Coaker said: “While it is clearly sound financial management for schools to retain a small surplus from year to year, we expect revenue funding to be used to support the education and well-being of pupils in school now.”

Two years ago, the DCSF backed down from imposing its own clawback where local education authorities failed to act, after protests at Westminster.

■ For the full list of schools in the region with “excessive” cash reserves, go to northern echo.co.uk/schoolscash