Day 63 – Wasting Public Money

First of all, thank you to the Harrold posse last night – small but select – we even had some debate going ! SMS knows that it is incredibly difficult to motivate ordinary people to give up their precious free time, even with important issues like education.

This is being made even more challenging by the refusal of some Heads to pass out information to parents and teachers about the other point of view.

Those Heads should realise that, whilst standing outside their school gates, parental opinion is the same as in schools with Heads that are supportive of SMS; the only thing that is different is that parents are beginning to lose trust in Heads, and some very openly. When Heads lose the trust of parents, it is a slippery slope…

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Yesterday, the Audit Commission released a report called “Valuable Lessons“. It criticises schools for failing to provide value for money and wasting millions by inefficient management.

Michael O’Higgins, chairman of the Audit Commission, said schools could make savings without adversely affecting pupils or their education.

He said: “Accountability for spending in schools has been weak possibly because, in the last 10 years, the focus has been on results. Ofsted is planning to give a higher priority to value for money and we will be pleased to work with them.”

SMS believes that spending vast amounts of public money on wasteful school structure change is appalling. Even the consultation process itself is profligate – £60K in printing and distribution costs but count the time of expensive council employees and all the time spent by everyone on both sides of the debate and the true cost must £1M plus.

In times of financial uncertainty you wouldn’t knock down your house and build a new one with a different layout – you would refurbish, enhance and upgrade your existing property. Then, if the money runs out in the middle, you don’t have to live in a tent !

SMS have been accused of wanting “no change” – rubbish – we want the money to build a 21st century three-tier system with brand shiny new schools in all phases.

SMS has also been accused of wanting to “tinker” – rubbish – we want a step-change in educational provision in Bedford Borough just like everyone else.

We are all on the same side really…we just haven’t realised that yet.

Politics is a numbers game – so please phone/email/write to your local councillor and other councillors – they need to know how you feel otherwise they won’t be able to judge public mood and make up their minds how they will vote…if their vote means something…

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7 Responses to Day 63 – Wasting Public Money

  1. JamesD says:

    I am astounded that the Mayor “has other things to do” than listen to the people of Bedford Borough at the Consultation Meetings, T&C today.
    The BSF programme and a change to 2-Tier is going to be a programme of nearly half a billion pounds. Putting that in figures with all the zeros: £350,000,000 + £60,000,000 (Council estimates from the Consultancy Document) plus at least another £60,000,000 to realistically convert the 60ish Lower schools to Primaries (Council’s own figures based on the cost of a new primary vs a new lower school) is a total of £470,000,000. Any project of this size should have at least a 10% contingency (if I remember correctly the Treasury rules say 15%) so that makes £517,000,000. And this is by a Council already £92,000,000 in debt.
    This is only the capital cost; Bedfordshire County Council cheap-skated on our children’s education for years, spending well below the England average for Education Spending per pupil. Unless Bedford Borough Council intends to make a significant increase in Education spending, more of the already low annual sum, technically called revenue funding, is proposed as expenditure on retraining teachers, protected salaries for teachers transferred to lower paid posts, redundancy payments and goodness knows how much on consultants.
    In both capital and revenue terms the programme outlined in the Consultancy Document is a very high risk, or even an extremely high risk proposal.
    If the Council goes bankrupt who gets the bill?

  2. PT says:

    Like everyone who has a child currently in the education system, all I want is to do the best I possibly can for her. However, like many I have spoken to at various meetings, I have found myself staggered by the risks being taken with our childrens education by people who I feel should know better.
    Start with two simple facts. Firstly, we absolutely and definitely are living in financially uncertain times and secondly, there absolutely and definitely will be a general election within the next year (before 3rd June 2010 to be precise). Put these simple facts together and what you get is an unequivocal feeling that now is the time for prudent and responsible housekeeping (especially when the future of our children is at stake).
    We cannot see into the future but we can learn important lessons from the recent past. It wasn’t that long ago that Northern Rock was a solid financial institution, interest rates at Icelandic Banks were “attractive” and Woolworths would live forever. The failure of these great institutions was unimaginable. The education officers at the public meetings appeared to believe that the failure of BSF funding is equally unimaginable but what if they start the process of transition and then find, some way down the line, that they were wrong. Who suffers then – our children and the council tax payers of Bedford.
    Is it possible that these supposedly professional people really don’t see the risk in what they are proposing ? Can they really not see that, now more than ever, a low risk option should be the prefered option ?

  3. Colin Mosedale says:

    PT – I will try and answer your question. At one of the 6 Council Consultation evenings I interrupted Chris Hilliard in his presentation regarding the advantages and disadvantages of the 2 and 3 tier sytems in Bedford Borough (the content of which I said I largely supported). I simply suggested however to Chris that one of the key disadvantages of the 2 tier system that he hadn’t listed was RISK. My question was deferred to the end of the presentation. I repeated it …”given the perilous state of the UK finances do the Council not see that they are proposing a very high risk option?”. There was no yes or no answer. I was advised that the assessment of risk is something the Councillors will work on and include in the final paper to the Council or Executive. I countered and said that assessment of risk should be in the public domain. Mr Simpkins moved on to the next question.
    Given that no LEA in the UK has carried out this change in educational system without a significant drop in educational standards and most of them have run into budget difficulties we can only hope that this key RISK is adequately and honestly presented in the decision paper.

  4. William says:

    Are you able to inform us how the Save Our Middle Schools campaign is funded?

    On your website you say that you have had a donation – how much was this for and who was it from or why does the funder wnat to stay out of the public light?

    Car stickers, leaflet printing etc doesn’t come cheap – so can you confirm that no money has been taken from middle school budgets to pay for your campaign?

  5. savemiddleschools says:

    Everything that SMS has organised has been funded out of our own pockets. This also includes travel costs, subsistence, and hire of halls amongst other things. Most notably we have donated the considerable cost of our professional time.

    Substantial sums have now been pledged by an international highflier, retired local entrepreneur, nationally-ranked sportsperson, and the director of a national charity, all of whom have benefitted from three-tier education, in order to fund a Judicial Review, should that be necessary. None of these individuals wish to be identified and will deny any involvement with our campaign should they be asked. We will certainly not name them or how much they have pledged.

    William, we are a group of parents opposed to change. Who are you and what is your agenda?

  6. William says:

    I have no agenda I am just an ordianary chap who has two children in the local school syestem (one lower, one middle)Unfortunatly my middle school experiances haven’t been the best!

    However I haven’t decided where I sit as yet so I think it is good to ask challenging questions of both sides -which i have done! (but obviously Chris Hilliard doesn’t publish his answers)

    I have also been to both the offical sessions and one of your sessions this week,

    I hate seeing public money wasted so I know that I will be fully opposed to a judical review if it goes that far as money that could be spent on our children will be wasted if that is a case – maybe that is a blog for another day.

    Do you think it is disapointing that your financial backers wont publicly back you – have they explained why this is?

  7. savemiddleschools says:

    William,

    There has been an awful lot of public money wasted on this non-consultation process already, not to mention the large amounts of time and effort.

    SMS feels that this underfunded, disruptive and chaotic change will also prove to be a waste of public money.

    Our backers have their own reasons not to be involved in a quasi-political campaign. We must respect those wishes, just as we respect your right to be anonymous on this blog.

    We don’t mind challenging questions as this is a cornerstone of democracy, which we back to the hilt.

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