Cllr Mary Arnold – Lib Dem / Tory Coalition Deprives Brent’s Schools of £380 million

The Coalition Government’s recent announcements cancelling Building Schools for the Future capital programmes has deprived Brent schools of  £80m funding allocated last January to rebuild, remodel and expand four secondary schools initially and a further £300m for the remaining secondaries.

This is an enormous setback for the children, teachers and indeed communities who have invested in the plans, been inspired and had their expectations raised by the promise of a 21st century learning environment. And judging by the stories emerging at the recent rally of parents, schoolchildren and unions to lobby MPs at Westminster, this is the tip of the iceberg across the country. It means that children will be taught in buildings not fit for purpose and in larger classes as there will not be enough school places for Brent’s children, as a result.

Over the last 13 years, Labour invested in Brent’s schools, year-on-year, producing higher standards with results above the national average and narrowing the achievement gap. Fewer schools have been in special measures and more children have stayed in education or training including apprenticeships. But instead of building on success, the Lib Dem/Tory government has put all this is at stake with no alternatives for capital investment as it rushes through the Academies Bill inviting schools to opt out of local authority control.

This coalition government option is initially for ‘outstanding’ schools in contrast to the original model, meaning that schools already doing well could opt to attract additional funds from local authority central services leaving less to support Brent’s family of schools. These new ‘academies’ would not be accountable to the local authority (and taxpayer) and there is concern whether their admissions criteria would be subject to its approval. As the school year ends in a policy vacuum, it is important to thank teachers in recognition of their enormous contribution and to collaborate in the interests of all Brent’s children in the future.

Cllr Mary Arnold

Labour Councillor for Kilburn Ward and

Lead Member for Children and Families

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Government Savages School places in Brent

Conservative Education Minister, Michael Gove, supported by his junior minister, Sarah Teather, MP for Brent Central, has withdrawn £80 million worth of funding for Brent schools under the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (BSF) programme. The decision forms part of the Liberal Democrats ‘savage cuts’ agenda announced by Nick Clegg at last year’s Lib Dem conference and being implemented by the Con Dem coalition Government.

Brent has a rising school population and a shortage of school places at both primary and secondary stages. Seven of the borough’s secondary schools are in very poor condition, not fit for purpose and require urgent replacement. The first phase of the BSF funding was to cover the rebuilding and expansion of Copland Community School, Cardinal Hinsley Catholic College, Queen’s Park Community School and Alperton Community School.

In addition, the rebuilding of the Crest Academies is also ‘under review’. The Ark Academy is not affected by the cuts.

The Government’s decision means that Brent will not be able to meet the demand for new school places.

The Leader of Brent Council, Councillor Ann John, OBE, has condemned the Government’s action, which, she says, is driven by outdated right wing ideology. Cllr John said:

“This decision means that the future prospects of Brent’s school students are being sacrificed on the altar of an outdated right wing ideology which dictates that debt must be repaid over the shortest possible period irrespective of the damage to public services and to the economy. Moreover, scrapping capital projects like this damage the economy and increases the prospect of a ‘double dip’ recession. Any recovery will be led by growth in the construction industry and this is bad news for them as well”.

The Lead Member for Children & Families, Cllr Mary Arnold, added:

“This cut will lead to overcrowding, larger class sizes and a return to the days when Brent kids were taught in corridors rather than in class rooms. The government are creating slum schools of the future”.

Brent Labour’s Budget Proposals

On Monday 1st March Brent Council met to determine its budget for 2010-11. Labour opposed the package of cuts and redundancies proposed by the Lib Dem/Tory administration. Labour also re-affirmed its promise to scrap the £25 charge for bulky refuse collection, which has led to an epidemic of dumping across the Borough Other proposals included:

FREE PARKING TO ENCOURAGE LOCAL SHOPPING FOR LOCAL PEOPLE

Labour will be proposing free parking for the first hour in council car parks (all of which are close to local shopping centres) in order to discourage local people from driving to ‘out of town’ shopping centres like Brent Cross, where parking is free, to encourage people to shop locally. This would have the effect of reducing carbon emissions and also have the effect of boosting local businesses with local people using local shops.

Labour’s Transport Spokesperson, Cllr Lena Ahmed, said:

“We believe that parking restrictions and charges in local shopping centres are bad for business and we want to encourage local shopping for local people so that local people use local shops. The cost in lost revenue is a mere £96,840, which is a small price to pay for a significant boost to the local economy during the world economic downturn”.

Labour is also calling for residents’ parking charges to be linked to carbon emissions with higher charges for vehicles which cause the most pollution.

These measures will form part of a ‘Green Charter’, which Labour will present to the electorate as part of its manifesto.

AN END TO THE LIB DEMS’ CARE CHARGE RIP-OFF

Having promised free personal care for the elderly before the last election, The Brent Lib Dems have increase some home care charges by nearly 300%. Labour voted against these increases and is pledged to review the charges. However, the government has now introduced the Personal Care at Home Bill, which will eliminate many of these charges.

Labour’s Spokesperson for Adults, Health & social Care, Cllr Ruth Moher, said:

“Those who receive home care are amongst the most vulnerable people in our borough and we will protect them”.

NO TO HOUSING ON PUBLIC OPEN SPACE

Labour’s budget proposals contain a specific pledge to reverse the Lib Dems’ plans for housing development in Barham Park and to protect all public open space from rapacious developers. In December, the Lib Dem controlled Executive agreed the sale of 776-778 Harrow Road, Wembley, which is in Barham Park, for housing development and Labour fears that a tower block may be built there.

Labour’s Environment and Planning Spokesperson, Cllr James Powney, said:

“The Lib Dems sneaked this report through the Executive just before Christmas and entitled it ‘Disposal of 776-778 Harrow Road’ in the hope that nobody would notice that the site is in fact IN Barham Park. The report allows for housing development on the site. Labour is opposed to any housing being built on public open space and we will fight this proposal all the way”.

Labour’s budget proposals also sought to reverse the sale of the scout hut at Oliver Goldsmith School.

ACTION FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

With Brent South Labour MP, Dawn Butler, being Minister for Young People, it is no surprise that Labour’s budget proposals seek to improve services for teenagers and young people. The party proposes a multi use games area in every suitable open space and regrets the Lib Dems’ decision to remove years 2 & 3 funding from the budget for improvements to Kingsbury’s Roe Green Park. Labour is also committed to restoring the cut in funding for the ‘Positive Activities for Young People’ programme, which is a Youth Service project working with young people at risk of social exclusion engaging them in constructive activity programmes in order to assist their progress into education or employment.

Labour’s spokesperson for Children and Families, Cllr Mary Arnold, said:

“It’s a false economy to cut youth spending because with nothing better to do, young people can sometimes drift into trouble, become a nuisance to everybody else and miss out on educational and employment opportunities, which will affect their life chances. Given the opportunity for positive activities, young people generally develop their talents and skills and they will thrive”.

SUPPORT FOR ADVICE AGENCIES

Labour will maintain the £22,000 one off increase in funding for advice agencies and seek to develop innovative ways to link advice, debt management and job seeking support services.

Kilburn ward Councillor Mary Arnold, who has campaigned against the closure of Brent In2 Work and cuts to advice services, said:

“Brent is slowly emerging from the world wide recession but the recovery is fragile and will be put at risk if the Tories or Liberals are in power. It is therefore important to retain the extra funding for advice agencies and to link advice, debt management and job seeking support services.

REPAIR POT HOLES BEFORE PAYING CONSULTANTS

Labour Councillors will slash spending on consultants by £1.5 million and use the money saved to repair pot holes and broken pavements. The Council’s own budget report shows that the cost of claims for injuries sustained on broken pavements has risen by over 30%. The Lib Dem and Tory council is also proposing to cut spending on street cleaning.

Labour’s Environment Spokesperson, Cllr James Powney, said:

“There are more pot holes in Brent’s roads than there are in the Yorkshire Dales and they are a danger to motorists in general and especially to cyclists. Meanwhile, broken pavements are an ever present danger to disabled residents and others with impaired mobility. Instead of wasting money on consultants who tell us nothing new we should repair our roads and pavements”.

Labour will also be seeking to reduce the grossly excessive spending of £16 million a year on temporary and agency staff.

Labour’s Deputy Leader and Finance Spokesperson, Cllr Muhammed Butt, said:

“How can the Lib Dems and Tories justify employing nearly 600 temporary and agency staff at a cost in excess of £16 million a year when we are sacking 250 permanent staff?”

Brent is simply the worst performing Local Authority when it comes to service provision for disadvantaged children

The Department for Children, Schools and Families has published results from national survey on Parental Experiences of Services Provided to Disabled People (LINK) and Brent scored lowest out of the entire country showing Brent to be simply the worst performing Local Authority when it comes to services for disadvantaged children.

The quality of services provided by the Council since the Lib Dem / Tory coalition took control in 2006 have plummeted and this is yet another example of poor performance from what is now a struggling Local Authority.  Under Labour, the Council was on course to becoming a under national performance indicators a four star Council. It is now under the Lib Dem / Tory rule still a Three Star Borough but dangerously close to scoring a Two Star rating with the Council scoring Two in the sub-categories of ‘use of resources’, ‘governing the business’ and ‘managing resources’. To see how pathetic the Council is performing across the board in local service provision see the following LINK.

The survey was conducted by social research company TNS-BMRB and scores were given to each local authority based on extensive questioning of parents of disabled children.

The average score for English local authorities was 61 (out of 100), a slight improvement on 59 a year earlier. The best performing local authorities were North Tyneside and Northumberland County Council who both scored 67. Brent’s score of 55 was simply the worst and was down from last year’s score by three points.

Brent Council’s Labour Opposition has repeatedly condemned the Lib Dem and Tory run council for cutting services for disabled older people. Now it appears that the ‘savage cuts’ favoured by the Liberal Democrats and Tories are impacting adversely on disabled children as well.

Labour spokesperson for Children and Families, Councillor Mary Arnold said the report makes shocking reading and it confirms our worst suspicions that services for the most vulnerable have rapidly deteriorated under this incompetent right wing administration. They have clobbered older disabled people by trebling care charges and now it is revealed that their services for disabled children are the worst in the country.

Lib Dem Hypocricy on School Funding

This week’s Wembley Observer newspaper publishes a letter from Lib Dem Education supremo Cllr Bob Wharton complaining that the £80 million earmarked by the government to improve Brent schools has not yet been received and may not yet be received. Meanwhile, in the Willesden & Brent Times the Lib Dem councillors for Wembley Central ward Daniel Bessong, Valerie Brown and Afifa Pervez have written a letter congratulating the Lib Dem council on getting the money, without of course mentioning that the money has been put up by the Labour government following intensive lobbying by local Labour MPs.

Labour’s Education spokesperson, Councillor Mary Arnold, said:

“The last time I looked, Councillors Wharton and the Councillor for Wembley Central ward were all in the same party yet they are saying radically different things about the same government announcement. This is a typical example of the Lib Dems trying to face both ways at once. The fact is that the Government has pledged £80 million for improvements to Brent schools and indeed the Labour Government has invested record sums on Brent schools for the past decade. It is the Liberal Democrats who are committed to ‘savage cuts’ in public spending and they cannot claim that the increased investment in Brent schools is anything to do with them”.

Lib Dems Gerrymandering in South Kilburn

Brent Lib Dems’ polling district review has resulted in the closure of a polling station in the Salvation Army building at the corner of Chichester Road and Cambridge Avenue near Kilburn High Road. Local residents will now have to go all the way to the OK Club in Peel Precinct. The Lib Dem council had earlier proposed to close that polling station as well but it was reprieved after Labour Councillor Mary Arnold (Kilburn ward) had argued against any polling station closures in her ward. Much of Labour’s support in the Kilburn ward comes from residents in the South Kilburn estate and the closure of a polling station there is seen as a deliberate attempt to reduce the Labour vote. Ironically, the area adjoins the City of Westminster, where the Lib Dems’ Tory allies famously gerrymandered the borough with their illegal ‘Homes for Votes’ scheme.

Councillor Arnold said:

“The closure of the Salvation Army polling station will greatly inconvenience local people especially elderly and disabled people who are less mobile. This is a deliberate attempt to boost the Lib Dems’ chances by making it more difficult for Labour supporters to vote. It is pure gerrymandering”.

Labour invests another £80million to modernise schools in Brent

Following extensive lobbying by Brent Labour councillors and local Labour MPs Dawn Butler and Barry Gardiner, the Labour government has agreed to provide an additional £80 million under its ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme. This means that secondary schools in the borough will be rebuilt or expanded as part of the government’s programme to modernise all secondary schools. Those programmed in the first phase are Alperton, Cardinal Hinsley in Harlesden, Queen’s Park Community School (which is to be expanded) and Copland School in Wembley.

Labour’s Education Spokesperson, Councillor Mary Arnold, said:

“Once again our Labour government has put its money where its mouth is and invested in education. In recent years, the Labour government has given Brent the second highest increase school budgets in the entire country and now they are giving us this huge additional capital investment to improve the fabric of our schools. Before Labour came to power, Brent school students were taught in overcrowded classrooms sometimes with leaking roofs and in some cases in corridors. That situation has massively improved under Labour and this new money gives us the chance to ensure that every Brent child receives a first class education in modern schools with state of the art facilities”.

The ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme allows for expansion as well as modernisation and Labour fears that the Lib Dem/Tory council may use the money merely to expand schools rather than modernise them. They have so far failed to rebuild primary schools despite receiving the money from the government to do so and their failure to take urgent action when they came to power four years ago has resulted in a critical shortage of school places.

Labour Government ready to guarantee funding for Crest Academies

At the Council meeting in September the Liberal Democrats and Tories who run Brent Council rejected a Labour motion to pursue the compulsory purchase of land adjoining the new Crest Academies (formerly John Kelly schools) to ensure outdoor sports facilities. They rejected the motion on the basis that further delay would jeopardise government funding. The Council’s failure to pursue the purchase of the land will also prolong the construction period from 18 months to four years and the £5 million earmarked for the purchase will be wasted on temporary accommodation.

It was apparent at the September meeting that the Lib Dems and Tories had made no attempt to meet with Government ministers to ascertain whether Government funding would in fact be at risk if the compulsory purchase was pursued. Accordingly, Brent South Labour MP, Dawn Butler arranged a meeting with Schools Minister Vernon Coaker on 21 October 2009 and that meeting was also attended by local Labour Councillors Ralph Fox and Lena Ahmed who both represent Dollis Hill ward and by Labour’s Education spokesperson, Cllr Mary Arnold.

Mr Coaker has now written to Dawn Butler to confirm that full government funding would still be available should the Council revisit its decision on the CPO (compulsory purchase order). If you would like to see a copy of Vernon Coaker’s letter, email me on krupesh@bclabour.org.uk.

The Leader of Brent Council’s Labour Opposition, Cllr Ann M John, OBE, thanked Dawn Butler for brokering the meeting with Mr Coaker and thanked her colleagues for attending.

Cllr John welcomed the Government’s decision and said:

“The Minister is effectively asking the Council to look at this again and pursue Labour’s original plan for first rate academies with first rate facilities, including outdoor sports facilities to be built with the minimum of disruption to the existing school community. The Lib Dems and Tories now have no excuse for building the new schools without acquiring the adjacent land”.