04:00PM, Friday 18 September 2015
Fair Funding campaigners have given the Royal Borough 14 days to finally answer questions on the decision to award £480,000 of developer funding to Holyport College before going to the Local Government Ombudsman.
A list of outstanding questions was handed to officers at a third meeting between the council and Royal Borough residents on Monday, as campaigners said the meetings had ‘come to the end of the road.’
The controversial decision was passed at full council on April 28, leaving parents at other schools across the borough angry and questioning the decision-making process.
As a result, a group called Fair Funding for Borough Schools was created, which has petitioned the council to revoke the decision and continues to demand answers.
Bethan Osborne, of Gringer Hill, asked officers to pass on the questions to Alison Alexander, director of children’s services, who was absent because she was at a meeting with the Department for Education, requesting that she reply with a written response.
“We feel that the Ombudsman is the only next step,” said Mrs Osborne. “He would be looking for processes and procedures and if the decisions were fair or perverse.
“I think there is still an opportunity for the council to provide coherent answers as to why the money was directed to Holyport College, but it seems that there are few thought processes recorded.”
Mrs Osborne refers to a period of time between March 12 and March 16, when a change from allocating the money to a range of schools to just Holyport College, a free school, was made.
The query has been voiced after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request into email exchanges found officers saying there were ‘a number of projects that could be eligible’ on March 12, to the decision on March 16 that Holyport College was the chosen project.
At the public meeting at Maidenhead Town Hall, one campaigner said: “This is a major decision to award nearly half a million pounds and you have not minuted it.”
Another aspect of questions refer to the ‘unease’ campaigners have about the involvement of councillors.
Cllrs Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside), co-founder of Holyport College, and Phillip Bicknell (Con, Park), whose son is head of sport at the school, voted on the decision at full council on April 28. Cllr Bicknell also proposed the item. Both did declare an interest.
Also in attendance at this week's meeting was Cllr Charles Hollingsworth (Con, Pinkneys Green), the Tory councillor who broke ranks by telling The Advertiser he disagreed with the decisions.
Cllr Hollingsworth, who sits on the Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Panel, said the criteria that the school should have a ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted report was not met by the Ascot Road School.
“It makes no sense to me,” he said.
A statement from the Royal Borough said: "We have received the questions and we will respond to them in due course. At the group’s request no further meetings will be held on this subject.
"We look forward to liaising with these residents in the future on how we allocate Section 106 funding for schools."
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