11:20AM, Thursday 30 July 2015
The Royal Borough endorsed its decision to give £480,000 to the expansion of Holyport College at a full council meeting on Tuesday. A petition, gathering 1,600 signatures, called for the allocation to be revoked. Council leader David Burbage said the authority would be holding a full review and update of its policies in regards to developer contributions. Here are your views on the funding debate.
I was at the full council meeting on Tuesday on behalf of the Fair Funding campaign and was disappointed Conservative councillors voted to support the £480,000 of funding given to Holyport College despite being informed they had been mislead over planning permission and the status of the legal agreement of the developer funding when they originally voted.
It seems no matter what evidence we submit to RBWM about our concerns over this decision we are met with a constantly changing set of priorities and rules. When we point out Holyport is not the most popular school in the borough, based on first choices, the council reinvents the way it interprets ‘popular’.
When we questioned the library being included in the funding it is blamed on miscommunication and removed despite being named in the legal agreement. We were subsequently told it was added again but the school still insisted it was not included.
RBWM told us the developer had insisted on one project. When we contacted the developer we were told RBWM had dictated both the amount of the contribution and the project.
When we asked too many questions we were told RBWM would no longer answer our emails and instead we will have to attend face-to-face meetings with officers. Apparently we ask too many questions.
When we handed in a petition with 1,616 names on it we were attacked by the leader of the council, David Burbage on his blog. He names and 'shames' many of our members because they belong to different political parties or they have expressed concerns about accessibility for disabled students at free schools.
As Fair Funding we have worked hard to maintain a fair, non-political campaign that didn’t resort to personal attacks but let the facts speak for themselves. In the process we have been blocked, belittled, insulted and ignored.
We are not the council’s opposition and we are not politically sophisticated. We are normal people who usually don’t get involved in 'this sort of thing' but who have come together from across the borough because we felt this decision was wrong.
We welcome the new set of guidelines set out by RBWM at the council meeting to ensure all future school funding decisions are fair and transparent. We may have failed to get the council to revoke this decision but we will continue to scrutinise school funding in the borough to ensure the commitments promised are put into practise and to hold our councillors to account.
Of course it would be so much better if our councillors held each other to account and not, as was witnessed at the council meeting, simply vote along party lines even when the evidence is there in front of them.
I was horrified last night to witness the complete lack of debate and participation by most Conservative councillors about this important matter. I would have expected our elected representatives to address many of the facts and questions that are now in the public domain.
However, not one single Conservative questioned the advancing of taxpayer’s money to Holyport College, to the sum of £480,000.
This money is being given to a free school only opened in September 2014, funded by £15m of public funds, on the basis it was to have a capacity of 500. This September it will still be nowhere near that original capacity, yet minutes from the Governors' meetings of the college show it is already not fit for purpose and does not match the capacity requirements it was funded for.
RBWM will only receive the £480,000 developer funding if the Stafferton Way development takes place, and if not, then Holyport College’s capacity shortfall has been funded by us, and no doubt, our local services will face more cuts.
Mrs JS Smith
Along with a hundred other supporters of Fair Funding for Borough schools I attended the council meeting when the petition to overturn the decision to give Holyport College £480,000 was presented.
Councillors can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on this issue – not since the revolt on the Poll Tax has there been such a demonstration of discontent.
The petition and subsequent questions were well presented and raised all the questions regarding lack of transparency and miss-information.
These of course were batted away by The Great Leader, Cllr Burbage, who said he supported fair funding for schools and proposed a motion that included a complete review of S106 funding and involvement of schools and community in future decisions.
This motion implies the current process is not fit for purpose and the Holyport decision was indeed unfair. This was very much in line with Cllr Simon Werner’s motion on the agenda, his attempt to ensure such a mess does not happen again.
The debate itself was highlighted by contributions from Cllr Evans (Hurley & Walthams) who gave a half apology and said the educational scrutiny panel should have debated this issue so it would be open to the public. Cllr McWilliams (Cox Green) said the debate was around process 'for which he had no time'.
Well councillor, let me tell you had there been proper process and hence transparency none of this mess would have arisen. Your party has the mandate to do what you wish providing the public can see decisions are legal and made with integrity – in short seen to be democratic. I have asked the then council’s principal officer Christabel Shawcross to review the process in this case, this is an extract from my letter:
'There seems to be, (in my view and that of many other members of the public) serious questions about the decisions made in this case, which include lack of openness; paucity of reports and information; undue influence, overlapping involvement, conflict of interest of certain members; and an unwillingness to set out clearly the reasons and justification for the decision and the process which led to it'.
Since Alison Alexander, head of children’s services who is the senior officer in the Holyport decision has just been just been appointed managing director, it remains to be seen if she will investigate herself or the council will appoint an independent party for the review. Whoever carries out the review it must be seen to be transparent and the full facts given to the public.
The final vote was a foregone conclusion – not a single Conservative councillor voted for the petition. However, I do hope within their group meetings they did make their electorate's views clear that this must not happen again.
The Fair Funding campaign has achieved a victory in that the council are now committed to a full review of S106 funding.
Finally I must comment on Cllr Bicknell’s reply to a supplementary question on the amount of money given to Holyport College, he said he 'did not understand where the sum of £10,000 came from'. Councillor, the average cost of an additional place is £10,628 say £10K, 10 times 48 places equals £480,000. In the words of the famous meerkat advert, 'simples'. If we are to raise the standard of education within the borough we really should have a lead member for education who can add up.
Well the people have had their say at the council and what have we learned. The petition signed by over 1,600 people was delivered with passion in the five minutes allocated by council rules. It was not fully presented as the Mayor strictly applied the five minute ruling and did remind supporters applauding the presenter – her interruption coming out of 'our' five minutes.
The debate and subsequent vote was farcical. Early in the debate we heard from Cllr Lynne Jones who said that as a member present at the original vote to award Holyport College she felt mislead and had been provided with substantive incorrect information.
The petition presentation had quoted from Holyport College governor meeting notes that cast doubt on the assertions the S106 monies were solely for expansion as the rules dictate but for improvements to changing rooms needed for the existing school population.
The developer who would be providing the S106 monies had confirmed RBWM had dictated funds only go to one project – RBWM had previously stated it was the developer who had insisted on this but later changed this to it was a joint decision. None of the above important points were picked up and debated.
Every single Conservative councillor voted to support the original decision. At the very least the petitioners could have expected some abstentions from new councillors who were not present at the original debate in April.
That of course would have incurred the wrath of the party leadership and we can’t have party disunity in the Royal Borough.
It is my belief the petition is correct and the award made to Holyport College was wrong and should not have been made. RBWM councillors had the opportunity to debate freely and reverse this decision but they chose instead to do the bidding of the council leadership.
Cries from the public gallery of 'shame on you' were deserved and appropriate.
To those who may feel this is a politically or personality motivated campaign I urge you to listen to the meeting when it becomes available online. Form your own opinion.
For me the offer by the leader to be even more transparent in the future did not go far enough.
I attended the meeting in the hope, if not expectation, of seeing our elected representatives seriously discuss the errors made in the decision-making to award £480,000 of developer funding to a single, ungraded school in the borough, recently highlighted by RBWM’s biggest ever online petition.
Council leader David Burbage recently remarked on his web-log (just before he deleted and disabled comments from those who had cause politely to reply), this was ‘democracy in action’.
Instead, we were treated to ‘democracy inaction’, as a large number of councillors chose not to speak up, despite being very aware of their own voters’ deep concerns.
I am pleased Cllr Burbage, and a few of his colleagues who did speak, clearly accepted the process was neither correct nor transparent, and gave a concession the procedure for awarding schools developer funding was wrong and should be reviewed, although it remains to be seen how deep or sincere this review will be.
However, having conceded there were inaccuracies, flaws and a distinct lack of clarity in this decision, the right thing to do would be to revisit this case from the start in order to ensure fair funding for all schools and children potentially affected by the proposed housing development in Stafferton Way.
To say 'we got this badly wrong, but we’ll be much more careful next time' will simply not be acceptable to the majority of residents, including those who voted for Cllr Burbage and his colleagues.
I shall be writing further to my own ward councillors – two of whom were absent tonight while the third chose not to speak up for his concerned residents – urging them to take note of the strength of feeling and the lack of support felt by the massive public showing in the council meeting.
I would encourage other RBWM residents to ask their own councillors to do the right thing, on this issue and for as long as they are chosen to represent us.
It seems the Holyport College debacle has proved having a large Conservative majority is bad for local democracy and there are many vested interests among our local councillors. As for accountability – just hollow words.
Tory councillors who firmly want to put their residents first in all major decisions including Holyport College face a dilemma. Revolt against the leadership and it leads to suspension from the party and the whip, go Independent and they won’t see any investment in their ward. That’s from sources within the party itself.
It's a sad state of affairs when councillors have to choose the lesser evil, which is to stay quiet and conform to reward the constituents who have elected them.
And is it not time career politicians such as Cllr Burbage and Cllr Dudley be removed from the top at RBWM?
As the years have gone by, their primary goal has been to impress Mr Cameron.
Yes, they were ‘democratically’ elected recently but in wards like Bray and Riverside – Tory strongholds – anyone could be a Conservative and still be voted in.
It is becoming more evident that both in local and national politics, to climb the greasy pole you have to change your beliefs and conform.
Some of us may not agree with Jeremy Corbyn including myself, but credit to the man for speaking out on what he truly believes.
Sadly for him and some Labour supporters, he may never succeed.
Name and address supplied
I attended the meeting at RBWM on Tuesday. I used to work as an auditor for a FTSE 100 plc.
I left in disbelief at the disregard for audit procedure – misconduct allegations left unanswered and taxpayer funds lent in advance to a free school which has not had an Ofsted.
The leader of RBWM held his head in his hands while councillors voted for Holyport funding to not be revoked. He looked embarrassed.
The whole situation should now be investigated by the ombudsman.
State school pupils across the borough will suffer as one school gets £480k on the back of personal involvement from councillors in the cabinet.
It is shameful.
Name and address supplied
I was one of more than 100 residents in attendance at the RBWM council meeting on Tuesday evening.
Having signed the Fairer Funding petition I was keen to see and hear the debate about issues raised regarding the £480k developer funding for expansion at Holyport College.
Despite hearing the councillors who addressed the meeting welcoming the public to the forum, I was left feeling the council collectively failed to listen, attempted to patronise the public, were on the defensive, talked from prepared scripts and couldn’t cope when asked questions for which they had not been briefed by either claiming not to understand, or being monosyllabic or declaring they were offended by the point raised.
Only councillors Werner, Beer and Jones showed any empathy with the public opinion expressed in the petition and by attendees in the public gallery.
The petitioner was cut off after exactly five minutes while elected members were indulged with time to tell tales of their own schooling, stories about children they’d met and one who seemed to compare his principles with those of Nelson Mandela.
Only eight councillors actually took part in the debate leaving a silent majority (my three Belmont members included) saying nothing of the opinion expressed so strongly by 1,600 people across all wards in the borough.
A lasting impression was that vocal RBWM councillors are driven by market forces in education – perceived popularity is their main focus and they are more interested in over-subscribed schools than those which may be more deserving of, and geographically more logical, for developer funding.
The vote to support the funding decision was an inevitable outcome.
I despair at the shambolic state of ‘democracy‘ in the borough.
I attended Tuesday night’s meeting which ‘debated’ the petition to revoke the S106 award to Holyport. With 54 Tory councillors, the majority of which wouldn’t even question the three main leaders, the petition was rejected.
It is hardly surprising.
There is an alarming lack of diversity in the council, based on political affiliation, gender, race and age.
There has to be a better way forward, and I would urge anyone who is contemplating becoming an independent councillor to step up, as only when there is more balance on this council will there ever be fairness.
They would get my vote and many others.
Until then this entrenched council will wriggle their way out of demands for scrutiny as they did tonight.
Despite the inconsistencies put forward it was railroaded through.
Shame on all you 54 Tory councillors and well done to the three Independents who stood up for their beliefs and those of the 1,616 residents who signed the petition
The ‘Fair Funding for all borough schools’ group presented their petition and it was opened up to a debate within the chamber.
The definition of debate in this democratic context would be to consider the petition, to engage in an informed argument discussing salient points and challenge the facts.
However, this did not occur.
Cllr Werner tried his best to have an informed discussion of the most relevant points but due to the total lack of engagement by the majority of the councillor’s and the filibusting of others, who had long pre-prepared statements which did not address the issue under debate, the 30 minutes allocated was used up and did not in any way or form constitute a debate.
At the end, even though in the opening statement the councillors were informed the information provided to the full council when they made the decision was incorrect, the chamber still voted to reaffirm £480K to be handed to Holyport College.
Not only this but that the money would be given up front to the school with no guarantee the developer will even build these houses and the money will be forthcoming.
There are still lots of unanswered questions and we will not stop asking them and will continue to strive to understand:
– The clear educational reasoning for this decision
– The legal duties under the new planning requirements of S106 monies
– The timelines for the decision making
– Why the borough was using school asset plans which were four years out of date to inform their decision process
– The incorrect information given to us by Alison Alexander in the meeting on June 30 concerning the developer's involvement in the process.
Finally in the meeting the councillors were informed that the legal S106 document could not be changed, this is factually incorrect, and an addendum on the agreement can be made if all parties agree.
As a resident of this borough I am extremely anxious that my councillors appear to be receiving incorrect information and making decisions on inaccurate facts and knowledge
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