12:00PM, Wednesday 29 July 2015
Here is the full statement read out at last night's full council meeting by Lindsey Blake, on behalf of Catherine del Campo, lead petitioner for the Developer Funding Petition.
On behalf of the Fair Funding team and all our supporters, thank you for inviting me to speak here this evening and agreeing to listen to our concerns.
In the sixteen days that our developer-funding petition was open, it received over 1,600 signatures — an average of 100 a day — and we believe this may be the Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead’s most popular online petition ever. It is fair to say that there is wide support for a review of the decision to award almost half a million pounds of developer funding to Holyport College, a brand new school two-and-a-half miles away from the development in question.
Signatures have been received from residents throughout the borough and of all political viewpoints; even loyal Conservative voters have voiced their concerns to us. It stands to reason then that a good proportion of those who signed the petition will also have voted this council into power.
The council claims to have already answered our questions, but frankly, we’ve been left with more than we started with.
Take for example, the requirement for developer funds to be restricted to one or two schools. At the public meeting on 13th July, we were first told this requirement came from the planning team because of new pooling rules, then that the developer had made the stipulation and then, that the planning team and the developer had come up with the restriction together. It’s difficult to know what to believe, especially as the developer emailed us this week to say, “The level of contribution and nature of project to be funded was dictated by RBWM, as is normal practice.”
It’s easy to see why we feel misled.
On the subject of fast-tracking the money from council funds, something we’d like to see revoked, I quote from the Head of Children’s Services: “Why wait? The school is willing and able to accept more pupils for September 2015, allowing us to offer more children a place at a school they want to attend.”
This week, however, we discovered the minutes of the March 19th Governors’ meeting at Holyport College, which was chaired by Councillor Dudley in his capacity as Chair of Governors. It turns out that the changing rooms are not even adequate for the college’s original planned intake this September. Again, I quote word for word:
“Mr Stephenson noted in particular that lack of changing room space and it was noted that these may be addressed within the potential expansion of the College. The head master noted that this really needed to be addressed before the pupil population doubled in September 2015.”
We have been told time and time again that this money is being awarded to aid additional expansion but it is now clearer than ever that the changing rooms are nowhere near fit for purpose and that this funding is being used to throw Holyport College a lifeline.
Why has this council, which is committed to openness and transparency, glossed over the real reasons for advancing the money?
As you can imagine, we have many more questions which have either not been fully answered or not answered at all. But in the time left, I’d like to address the way we have been dealt with by our elected representatives and their officers.
A freedom of information request to see Holyport College’s plans and submissions has gone unanswered, and follow-up emails have not been acknowledged. A code of conduct complaint, which should have been responded to within two weeks has not been answered, more than six weeks later.
Why is the council neglecting its responsibilities to respond to information requests and complaints?
We have been told that our questions will only be answered face to face from now on. Given the number of outstanding questions at the last meeting, to which only a handful of people were invited and for which no follow-up meeting has been planned, this effectively denies us a voice.
Why is this council trying to shut down dialogue? It’s no wonder we’re “jumping up and down”.
When we have tried to engage with our councillors on social media, we have been named and shamed online, blocked on Twitter, labelled as ‘trolls’ and dismissed as ‘opposition’.
Should councillors who use social media to promote their political activities and interests be blocking and belittling the people they claim to serve?
Let me make it clear that this campaign has never been about politics or opposition to free schools. We are not your opposition, we are ordinary people looking at this decision and saying it’s not right, and we’re not happy with the way the council has acted. We are mums and dads, grannies and granddads; we are teachers, head teachers, governors and heads of governors; we support Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and none of the above; some of us even work for free schools because we are passionate about changing children’s lives. We know what outstanding looks like and quite frankly, we are looking at a council which needs a lot of improvement.
I hope that by now you have a sense of the strength of feeling amongst the borough’s residents; people who want a fair deal for all our children, including the ones who have no choice but to go to so-called ‘coasting and failing schools’. Even where the borough’s schools have opted out of local authority control, your responsibility to those children did not end — instead, your job to provide them with a quality education just got a whole lot harder. You now have the opportunity to debate this petition. Please do the right thing. Revoke the April 28th decision, don’t rubber-stamp it — you work for us, and we deserve better.
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