Day 196 – An Executive Decision

November 12, 2009

Yesterday the Executive voted for the School Organisation Review’s recommendation that Bedford Borough change from three-tier to two-tier. Those who voted for the change were Dave Hodgson, Charles Royden, David Sawyer, Nicky Attenborough and Will Hunt (although he only voted for this to go to Full Council and may change his mind once it is voted on there). Barry Huckle was absent, but we presume he would also have voted for change. Councillors in favour of retention were Michael Headley, Sue Oliver and Nick Charsley.

This was despite the obvious financial holes in transforming ~50 lower schools to primary schools, which covers 60 square metres of space per classroom but nothing else. There is no money for equipment to fill them, no extra toilets, no corridors or circulation space, no extra staff space, no extra specialist facilities, nothing beyond the classroom shells.

To finance this, the plan assumes £7.5M of future government funding under the Primary Capital Programme, and £15.7M from capital receipts of land sales. It requires “top-slicing” of schools’ budgets. So 0.3% of 2010’s budget, and 0.6% from 2011 onwards…in addition to the massive reduction in education spend already announced from 2011 onwards.

This of course means there would be no money left over for other routine maintenance of school buildings for at least five years.

And what if the building projects over-run or over-spend I hear you ask?

Funnily enough, nobody can answer this one…more “top-slicing”?…more council borrowing?…an increase in council tax?…areduction in other services?

Maybe we should ask John Goldsmith, one of the authors of the report, who has been quoted in the Times & Citizen today on the matter:

JG said “Other authorities when they have made this change have used temporary buildings, but we have been clear from the outset that we want to have permanent buildings in place”.

We would all want that John…but how are you going to achieve it with this level of funding?

Lower school governing bodies did not have the detailed financial proposals when they voted on whether to support the change to two-tier last summer. I’m sure there are some governors who would like to have the opportunity to vote again.

You don’t even have to be a supporter of three-tier education to see that this could set early education back years in Bedford.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to help us persuade councillors to use their vote wisely on Monday evening.