Fair Funding campaigners have found themselves ‘back to square one’ after they say they were told complaints to the Royal Borough would not be officially lodged if they didn’t use the word ‘complaint’.
Bethan Osborne, one of the leading representatives of the campaign, has been corresponding with David Scott, head of education, and Alison Alexander, director of education and now managing director, since its decision to award £480,000 of developer funding to Holyport College at full council on April 28.
Mrs Osborne, of Gringer Hill, contacted the Local Government Ombudsman regarding the issue but says she was told she had not exhausted the complaints procedure at the borough, and the council would not take her comments as a complaint without her using the actual word in her emails.
“I am surprised they didn’t direct me to the complaints procedure,” said the mother-of-two.
“Five months have elapsed and we are practically back to where we were at the beginning.
“It has not been a waste of time though, because we have had the meetings and discussions and our complaints are more focused.”
In order to approach the Ombudsman, you have to ‘prove that there is a personal injustice’, and, for that reason, campaigners have to lodge complaints as individuals rather than as a collective.
Asked why the group has persevered with the campaign, Mrs Osborne said: “I think it is very strongly held views by a diverse population of people; there is no one political view or anything else ideological driving us.
“It is the common sense of unfairness expressed by parents, grandparents, teachers and general members of the public who have seen what is happening and don’t believe it is right.
“It is down to the court of public opinion.”
A spokesman from the borough said: “Officers endeavour to answer questions from members of the public – if during the course of that dialogue a member of the public expresses a wish to make a complaint then they will be assisted to do this.
“Our complaints policy and procedure is clearly outlined on our website along with the various ways to make a complaint including by telephone, email, letter or by filling in a online form.”
Fair Funding timeline
- Tuesday, April 28 – The Royal Borough approves funding of £480,000 of Section 106 money to Holyport College. The item was proposed by Cllr Phillip Bicknell (Con, Park) and voted for by deputy leader Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside), who both declared an interest. Cllr Bicknell’s son works at the school and Cllr Dudley is co-founder of the free school.
- Thursday, June 11 – A Facebook campaign called Fair Funding for Borough Schools is launched after members of the public’s letters regarding the issue go unanswered.
- Thursday, June 18 – Cllr Bicknell tells the Advertiser he can’t understand why ‘everyone is jumping up and down’ after he and Cllr Dudley were criticised for voting on the item, despite declaring an interest.
- Tuesday, June 30 – The Fair Funding campaign launches an online petition on the Royal Borough website, asking the council to revoke £480,000 worth of Section 106 money to Holyport College and a decision to advance council funds to the school before any developer funding has been received.
- Thursday, July 2 – Confusion over what facilities are involved in the funding as the Royal Borough says expansion of the school library is in, despite Holyport College stating it was not.
- Wednesday, July 15 – The online petition reaches more than 1,616 signatures in a week, the most successful RBWM online petition.
- Tuesday, July 28 – Full Council votes against revoking the decision to award Holyport College the funding. Every Conservative councillor present voted to endorse the funding decision. All three opposition councillors voted against.
- Tuesday, August 4 – A second public meeting is held at Maidenhead Town Hall where officers and council staff answered questions.
- Wednesday, August 12 – The Advertiser issues two questions to each Royal Borough councillor, asking: Did the RBWM make the right decision in awarding £480,000 of developer funding to Holyport College? Are you happy with the decision-making process?
- Thursday, August 20 – Seven of 57 councillors responded to the Advertiser’s questions. Cllrs Lynne Jones (Old Windsor, Old Windsor Residents’ Association) and Simon Werner (Lib Dem, Pinkneys Green) disagreed with the decision.
- Thursday, August 27 – Cllr Charles Hollingsworth (Con, Pinkneys Green) breaks rank, saying he agrees with the views of Cllr Jones on the issue.
- Tuesday, August 25 – Cllr Marius Gilmore (Con, Pinkneys Green) supports the decision but welcomes changes in the process to allocating S106 money.
- Monday, September 14 – Campaigners hand a list of outstanding questions to the Royal Borough at a public meeting, requesting a written response.
- Wednesday, September 30 – The Royal Borough responds but campaigners say ‘more questions than answers emerge.’