Day 51 – Decisions, decisions

Don’t forget to fill in the consultation document
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So, who has the decision over our children’s education? Nobody seems to know at present. Phil Simpkins, the Borough’s new Chief Executive (£165K a year – nice little earner if you can get it), has said in the 5 official consultation evenings so far that the Borough is taking legal advice and that whatever the decision is, nobody can change it as “it’s the law” as enshrined in the Local Government Act.

Fine.

So what are the options? Well, confusion seems to reign supreme over Bedford Borough. If the mayor has powers over education then it might be that he can make the decision in cabinet with the 9 members of his executive and only need 33% of them to agree with him – that is, 3 of the 9 – and, remember, the mayor appointed these 9 councillors to his executive so it shouldn’t be difficult to find 3 of them to agree with him !

However, unlike the 36 councillors who we have just elected to the new Unitary Authority, the mayor has never been elected with any direct powers over Education. When he was elected in 2007, the County Council had responsibility for Education…and the mayor’s term of office has extended through the period of the handover of this to Bedford Borough.

Common sense dictates that, whatever the law actually says, the mayor should listen to the people of Bedford Borough and allow the decision to be made through a Full Council vote, with a simple majority of the 36 councillors. Each councillor should then be allowed by their political parties to vote with their conscience and according to the wishes of their electorate. They at least would understand the consequences of their actions, potentially at the ballot box in May 2011.

To do anything else would lead to massive resentment and public protest.

SMS calls upon Phil Simpkins to make the legal advice known now so that everyone is clear about the rules of this strange and worrying game in local politics.

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Don’t forget to fill in the consultation document

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5 Responses to Day 51 – Decisions, decisions

  1. NN says:

    I agree that this needs to go to full council vote and not the mayor and his executive. To keep the vote within the executive alongside a lack of consultation that has taken place would just confirm all of those fears many have that the outcome is already prejudged. This is too important a decision to be left to an executive most of whom, including the mayor, have not been in attendance at any of the consultation meetings. If this is truly an open consultation then both sides of the argument need to be heard and it not be left to the audiences to be the opposite voice. Tell many debating societies that this is occurring and see what they say.

    Where is an honest and open consultation for all? Where is the voice of the children who are going to be affected by this? Where is the voice of the teachers, many of who are uncertain of their future? These voices do not appear to be listened to or given the chance to speak. The consultation process has gone from being all will have jobs to ringfencing some jobs to outright hostility and rudeness from the Borough officers towards those whose employment is at risk. This is particularly true for support staff who are even more vulnerable in a situation like this.

    My own children cannot understand why the Borough want to change a system that works effectively just because a few schools bring the average down.

    The mayor and his executive need to be listening and seeking the views of all concerned not just a few cosy officers. We need to be canvassing these councillors to ensure that they are aware of their electoral responsibilities to represent the will of the people. It is clear that in the meetings I have been to that the will of the people is to retain the current system and use th

    • NN says:

      Sorry pressed submit.

      It is clear that in the meetings I have been to that the will of the people (or the majority of people) is to retain the current system and use the money to put into the uppers to improve them but also that this money would go to the middles too to ensure that the secondary years they have, benefit hugely too. This would also ensure that years 5 and 6 would also benefit through improved middles. Therefore, wouldn’t more children benefit and earlier in their school lives, rather than just 8 schools? This could leave a legacy of real redevelopment and revitalisation across the whole Borough both urban and rural. Interesting thought Mr Mayor!

  2. A Governor says:

    I appreciate that this area is more opaque than we would like but my understanding of the law covering the decision making process of the Executive in Authorities with a Directly Elected Mayor is that it actually works the other way around.

    It is for 2/3 of the Executive (which in the case of Bedford Borough is 10, the Mayor being a member of the Executive himself) to throw out the Mayor’s proposal.

    So, instead of the Mayor needing to find 3 supporters, it is the detractors that must meet a 2/3 test. Why is this important? Well because in order to meet the 2/3 against test, that actually requires 7 councillors to vote against.

    In effect, putting it more the way around you have on the blog, the Mayor actually only needs 2 councillors to side with him, not 3, to push through his decision.

    You do need to read it slowly – it’s not that impenetrable – but the relevant legislation seems to be the Local Government (Standing Orders) (England) Regulations 2001 (http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2001/20013384.htm#3)

  3. Michael Headley says:

    That’s close. But it’s 2/3 of COUNCIL that is needed to propose a revised budget or policy framework item from that proposed by the Mayor/Executive. This is on the second time through after the Mayor/Executive have considered the reasons for any proposed change that are voted on at a first full council meeting.

    Fundamentally, the mayoral system (that was voted in by local residents in 2002) gives the executive powers to the Mayor. In the “old days” Full Council (that’s all councillors meeting and voting together) had the final say on things. Full council no-longer has that power. On the vast majority of things the final decision rests with the Mayor (or with cabinet members if he chooses to delegate it).

    Basically, full council only has the power to amend with a 2/3 majority (at a second meeting) the Budget and Policy Framework of the council as recommended by the Executive.

    The issue in this case is whether the change to two tier is contrary to the existing “policy framework” of the council or whether it is a normal policy decision that can be taken by the Mayor/Executive.

    I believe that it is contrary to the existing policy framework – but we will have to see what the legal experts say.

    The final option is that the Mayor can ask full council for its opinion and then voluntarily choose to abide by it.

  4. Helen says:

    On the consultation issue, Bedford Borough has a Consultation Strategy (2006-10) on its website, it makes very interesting reading – but does it just pay lip-service to proper consultation? Judge for yourselves:

    http://www.bedford.gov.uk/idoc.ashx?docid=1344ffb7-8e2d-4098-bf21-e8d763e4317c&version=-1

    In it is the following assertion: “the key element of our commitment to delivering high quality, cost-effective and responsive public services is to engage in meaningful dialogue with our community… It allows citizens to be better informed and more involved in the Council’s decision-making processes.”

    Having attended two meetings, one at Wootton Upper and the other at a feeder middle school, the overwhelming message I am hearing is: “We have a high quality, cost-effective and responsive public service already (our three-tier system, though the historic underfunding of the old Bedfordshire Council must be made up). We are not apathetic on this issue, we do wish to engage in that “meaningful dialogue” with our local authority, but have not been given adequate information or time in which to do so, especially as most students, teachers and parents are taken up with tests, exams, invigilations at this time of year (compared with the time of Council Officers for preparation of the case for two-tier). There is little evidence of consultation with students who will be affected (as the funding for this was not forthcoming) or with the Bedford Citizens Panel, of which I am a member, and have received nothing. The argument given for this ridiculously short period for replies is that the funding opportunity may be lost if we do not act quickly. We will not let this bounce us into a hasty decision on such a monumental issue as our childrens’ future. Our views and genuine questions – with sometimes inadequate replies (one question each of max. 5 minutes duration) have not been recorded/ minuted in any way at these meetings, and our Mayor and members of the Executive have not been present to hear our views direct, only the employed Officers who did the professional job for which they are paid(correct me if I’m wrong, but there were no name badges so it was hard to identify them).

    We are certainly better informed now, thanks to the wealth of information on this blog, and no thanks to the Borough’s document with its misleading GCSE statistics and lack of qualitative data from OFSTED reports. We are saddened to say that as a result of this consultation we in no way “feel more involved in the Council’s decision-making processes”, unless there is an election for a Mayor to represent the newly constituted local authority with its new education powers (since when was a 7-year period of office for Mayor valid, and is this not an entirely new legal entity now?) and unless the issue goes to a full referendum and a full council vote with our elected representatives in October, adding an additional month of September to the consultation period”.

    Fair comment? Wake up Bedford Borough, we sleep-walked into this Executive style arrangement, don’t let’s do it again with two-tier system!

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