Tory Cabinet rejects greater priority for siblings at the same school

siblings going to school 2

At today’s meeting of the County Council’s all-Conservative Cabinet, its members voted unanimously to reject the recommendations of an all-party working group which had been reviewing school admission criteria for primary age children.

The working group had been led by Cllr Clive Rickhards (Liberal Democrat, Studley), with membership from the three main political groups on the Council plus a senior member of the Warwickshire Governors Association. It had reviewed in detail a proposal for changing admission criteria in Warwick, which had been the subject of public consultation earlier in the year, and had concluded that the proposed “Super Priority Area” approach was the wrong way to address the challenge of giving families a greater chance of their primary-age children being able to attend the same school.

Instead, the working group had made the unanimous recommendation that Warwickshire should move to giving siblings greater priority within admissions criteria while retaining existing priority areas for individual schools, and had recommended that the new approach be piloted in the Warwick & Leamington area for an initial two years.

Cllr John Whitehouse (Liberal Democrat, Kenilworth Abbey), a member of the working group and Lib Dem spokesperson for Education & Learning, said after the Cabinet meeting:

“For over a year the Conservatives have been dangling the prospect of changed admissions criteria to parents badly affected by the current rules, and groups like Siblings at the Same School which have done heroic work in bringing the issues involved to the attention of elected members. Now, today it has come to the crunch, and despite a set of unanimous recommendations from an all-party working group they have decided to do nothing. Warwickshire parents will continue to face the possibility that their primary age children cannot attend the same school, with all the problems that can bring for family life and the well-documented adverse impacts on the children themselves.

“A decision by Labour members of the Children’s scrutiny committee, to abstain en-bloc on the working party recommendations, provided the Conservatives additional cover to justify their “no change” decision today. Both major parties have decided to sit on their hands and leave parents to cope with the consequences as best as they can. Both Conservatives and Labour have let down Warwickshire parents very badly.”

Bus fares in Warwickshire to be scrutinised

The Lib Dem Group was successful at today’s meeting of Warwickshire County Council in amending a motion on Bus Fares originally put forward by Green councillors. The amendment will refer the subject to the Communities Overview & Scrutiny Committee for detailed review. While sympathetic to some of the objectives of the Green motion, Liberal Democrat members believed there were wider issues to address, which were best dealt with in committee rather than asking Full Council to make a snap judgement.

Curiously, the whole of the Conservative Group abstained on the amended motion, despite a number of Tory members making it clear in the debate that they thought nothing could be done about bus fares, and that it was all down to way a “free market” operates. However, the amended motion was passed with the unanimous support of all other members.

We look forward to a thorough Scrutiny review of this important subject later in the year.

Tory-only Cabinet To Remain

The Lib Dem motion at today’s Annual Meeting of Warwickshire County Council, to reduce the size of the Cabinet and make it balanced politically, gained the support of the Green and Independent Groups but was defeated by the Conservatives. The Labour Group abstained.

Voting figures were:  FOR 14, AGAINST 25, ABSTAIN 19.

Voters should be quite clear that it is Labour that is allowing the Conservatives to continue to run Warwickshire as a minority administration. Their reasons for doing so remain unclear, because none of their members spoke in the debate on the motion. Perhaps the fact that Labour members now chair the Council together with all its major committees might have something to do with it?

Lib Dems call for streamlined, balanced Cabinet

At tomorrow’s annual meeting of Warwickshire County Council, the Liberal Democrat group will be tabling the following resolution:-

“This Council believes that the current size of Cabinet should be reduced in line with the savings being made across all council services, and that it being constituted of members from a single political group does not serve the best interests of Warwickshire residents.

The Council calls on the Leader to review whether it is appropriate to establish a Cabinet consisting of seven members which reflects the political make-up of the County Council in accordance with the proportionality rules, and to report back at the next meeting of the Full County Council.”

Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, Lib Dem Group Leader, said:-

“We have consistently called for a streamlined County Council Cabinet structure over recent years, most recently in the budget debate in February, and we do so again.

“A Cabinet of nine members is too large when we have reduced the number of senior directors from nine to five in recent years, and are seeking to further rationalise management structures. Elected members should lead from the front on this.

“We believe that a politically-balanced Cabinet would command greater support from elected members, and from the electorate in general, to help push through the Council’s very difficult agenda of change over the next four years (the One Organisational Plan).”

Lib Dems want key role for voluntary sector in council re-structuring

The Liberal Democrats group on Warwickshire County Council want early involvement of voluntary organisations in the delivery of the council’s “One Organisational Plan”, the blueprint for the restructuring of county services to help achieve its £92 million savings plan.

They believe that innovative new ways of working are achievable, but only if the voluntary sector is engaged early and given the time to explore the feasibility of options prior to the prescriptive timescales of formal consultations and commissioning processes.

Lib Dem group leader Cllr Jerry Roodhouse has put forward the following recommendations to senior council officers and the leaders of the other political groups on the council:-

  1. A version of the One Organisational Plan with accompanying explanation should be circulated to the voluntary sector so they can understand the vision and thinking behind the Plan, and made available on the Council website.
  2. A web cast/You Tube film aimed at this audience should be cascaded to all voluntary organisations via the Warwickshire CAVA weekly emails, to help explain and introduce the Plan.
  3. A seminar should be held for leaders of the sector to explain how the Plan will be enacted and how/when they will have the opportunity to participate.
  4. Commissioning and decommissioning timetables should be shared with the sector at the earliest opportunity, with additional lead in times built in for organisations to explore possible joint or cooperative working, or for new social enterprises or other entities to be formed and ready to submit tenders.

Cllr Roodhouse said: “These suggestions aren’t costly, but would protect against the voluntary sector feeling shut out and alienated and acknowledge the key role they will play in future service delivery.”

Cllr Nicola Davies, Lib Dem spokesperson on the Corporate Services Overview & Scrutiny Committee, has led the development of these ideas. She said: “It’s important we get this right. Our budget proposals made it clear that the voluntary sector had a lot to offer. We must ensure early engagement with the sector, and not be seen to be ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ as we implement restructuring plans.”

A report setting out reporting arrangements for the One Organisational Plan will be presented to the 5th June meeting of WCC’s Cabinet.

Audit Commission report reveals Warwickshire County Council’s high central costs

A ‘value for money’ report from the Audit Commission dated 27th February
highlights that, ‘high central costs in some councils need greater
scrutiny,’ and identifies Warwickshire County Council as one of the worst
offenders.

Using the latest available data, from 2012/13, the Audit Commission
analyses and then compares data across all the country’s county councils.

Warwickshire’s spend on central costs is 11.2% of its total spending,
nearly double the national average of 6.1%, putting it in the worst 5% of
county councils in the country.

County Councillor Kate Rolfe (Lib Dem, Stratford South) will be asking the
following question at the county council meeting on March 25th:

‘In its latest value for money report the Audit Commission identifies
Warwickshire County Council as one of the highest spenders in the country
- in the worst 5% – in the proportion of spending that goes on management
and back office services.

Will the Leader please explain why Warwickshire’s costs in this area are
so high and what she intends to do to remedy the situation?’

Cllr Rolfe commented, ‘This is not what council taxpayers want their
money spent on. It should be going on front line services, not on
management. I’m determined to find out what’s behind this, but I suspect
part of the reason may be that Warwickshire is one of the smallest
counties, which means that its fixed central costs are relatively high.

If this is part of the reason then it’s all the more reason for the
Conservatives to start taking more seriously Lib Dem proposals about
sharing services with other councils and public bodies.

We’ve been saying for a long time that costs are too high. It looks as
though the Audit Commission agrees with us so I hope at long last we can
see some action from the Conservatives on this to deliver better value
for money for local residents’.

Notes:

To see the Audit Commission’s report and data, go to:

http://www.audit-commission.gov.uk/information-and-analysis/value-for-mone
y-briefings-2/

and click on ‘value for money profiles’ (underlined in the main body of
the text).

Then go to ‘select a council’ on the left hand side of the page:
select Warwickshire County Council from the table and confirm the
selection in the top box.
Select ‘county councils’ and confirm in the box labelled ‘Find and
highlight a comparison group’.

This will produce a table called ‘overview’.

Then click on the box at the top of the page labelled ‘financial
resilience’.

This produces another analysis, included in which is ‘Spend on management
and support (back office) services as a proportion of total service spend’
and which shows that amongst the country’s county councils Warwickshire
is in the highest 5%.

Lib Dems Call for Transparency at LEP

cwlep

Liberal Democrats believe that transparency is the key to seeing  how public money is spent and how important decisions are made.

The Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (CWLEP) is the major organisation in the sub-region through which the Government is channeling large amounts pf public investment in order to deliver growth. Yet no minutes of CWLEP Board meetings are made available for public scrutiny..

Warwickshire Lib Dems leader Cllr Jerry Roodhouse has called on the LEP to open up and become more transparent. He stated:

“In this day and age it is unacceptable for a body such as the LEP to keep its doors shut to the public and be secretive about how decisions are made. Transparency is important especially where public money is being spent. My hope now it that they will change and open up.”

Unhappy 4th Birthday, HS2!

hs2Today is the fourth anniversary of the fateful day in 2010 when, in the run-up to the General Election, the Labour government announced its plan to build the HS2 line between London and Birmingham. Many at the time saw it as a blatant election ploy by Labour to boost support in West Midlands marginal constituencies. Who would have thought that the incoming Coalition government would pick up and run with the project without subjecting it to the toughest critical scrutiny, and that now four years later this huge vanity project continues to rumble on, seemingly unstoppable by rational argument alone?

I make no secret of my total opposition to HS2. When it was first announced I was acting as agent in the parliamentary campaign in Kenilworth & Southam constituency, and it took my candidate and I a few days to read everything which the government published about the project and to decide to oppose it outright. Yes, the Lib Dems have a policy of supporting high speed rail, but we quickly decided that HS2 was the wrong scheme on the wrong route at the wrong (excessive) speed. Since then, of course, successive Secretaries of State for Transport have tried to shift the rationale for HS2 several times as each previous argument has been shot down in flames.

And yet, HS2 is still with us, and in fact the HS2 Phase 1 Hybrid Bill is in the House of Commons with its 2nd Reading expected some time after the Easter recess. Due to the ineptitude and failure of HS2 Ltd to engage fairly and effectively with individuals and communities affected by the scheme, the consultation on the Environmental Statement has attracted well over 20,000 responses. The petitioning stage of the Hybrid Bill, which will start some time after the 2nd Reading, will stretch at least until after the next General Election in May 2015. Even Patrick McLoughlin has now accepted this reality! HS2 will therefore be a major general election issue in 2015.

I’m very unhappy that the leadership of the Lib Dems, like that of the other two major parties, continues to be speak out in favour of HS2. However, there is mounting evidence that individual members and local parties are turning against HS2, as indeed is public opinion. The focus now needs to be on individual Lib Dem MPs, to persuade them to look hard at all the evidence against HS2 before the 2nd Reading of the Hybrid Bill and to vote against it.

If you are lucky enough to live in a constituency with a Lib Dem MP, please write to him/her and express your opposition to HS2. Even if you don’t, write anyway! I have, to a number of Lib Dem MPs in the South West and West – see http://johnwhitehouse.mycouncillor.org.uk/my-letter-to-lib-dem-mps-in-the-south-west-and-west-24th-february-2014/. So far two replies, both quite encouraging, so let’s hope for some more!

Congratulations to St John’s School, Kenilworth!

As a governor of St John’s Primary School, Kenilworth for over ten years, I’m absolutely delighted with the school’s latest Ofsted report which has been published today:  http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/130870

As most people know, the latest Ofsted inspection framework for schools has “set the bar” even higher than before, and there have been a number of high-profile examples of schools falling badly short of previous assessments.

St John’s has been assessed as GOOD overall, and in particular OUTSTANDING in terms of the behaviour and safety of its pupils.

My warmest congratulations to the head, Darren Barrow, and all the school staff and pupils, for this achievement.

Lib Dems Welcome Outcome of Unitary Debate

Liberal Democrats have welcomed the outcome of the public interest debate at yesterday’s County Council meeting, where councillors decided by an overwhelming margin to pursue further the opportunities for unitary local government across Warwickshire. All Lib Dem county councillors present voted for the motion, and also voted to defeat a Labour amendment which called for no further action to be taken.

The debate was initiated by the Lib Dems last October, when the County Group Leader Cllr Jerry Roodhouse wrote to the other group leaders calling for an open and honest discussion of the matter.

Yesterday’s debate attracted a wide range of public speakers to participate, including business representatives and town and parish councillors, almost all of whom were in favour of the unitary idea being explored further. Regrettably, with one exception the leaders of the district and borough councils in Warwickshire chose not to attend.

As the review now moves forward, Lib Dems call on all parties to put aside tribal differences and vested interests, and to consider the evidence for and against unitary local government on its merits. We believe that the final decision must rest with the people of Warwickshire through a referendum.

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