Leading Liberal Democrats have launched a withering attack on the Conservative County Council’s handling of schools issues.

In December it was revealed that Shropshire was one of 15 councils – of a total of 148 – not to have its bid for £8.5m of government money approved.

“It was a very appropriate climax to a year of unhappy performance, “ said Lib Dem Leader Peter Phillips, “since the pursuit of their schools closures policy was partly aimed at winning this money.”

The Liberal Democrats allege:
•    Ignoring public opinion
•    Dividing schools and communities
•    Unconvincing and ill-defended arguments
•    Poor and contradictory evidence

“Having voted this unhappy schools closure policy through (Dec  14th),” said Cllr Phillips, “we then had their abject capitulation on Jan 30th when they kicked closures into touch until next June’s election.”

Andrew Whyte, former Liberal Democrat Education Chairman, said “closing smaller schools, excepting very hard cases, never produced any savings.  There are huge extra costs in transport and, often, in building and running new premises.  All our schools perform well: there is no educational  reason for closing any.

Chris Mellings, Lib Dem Cllr for Wem, commented: “I very much regret the way in which the County Council has factionalised the debate, setting some schools against another.  Wem primary school, with over 400, is large by Shropshire standards – it still has resource problems but closing smaller schools won’t resolve them.  We need an approach that benefits ALL our children.

“What has been most infuriating has been the County Council’s utter disdain of public opinion,” said Cllr Heather Kidd, Lib Dem Parliamentary Candidate for Ludlow.  “There have been confused arguments, disputed evidence – and solid public opposition: but the Tory Council has sailed on regardless. 

“Public opinion has been totally clear – and utterly dismissed by the Tories,” said Clun Cllr Nigel Hartin.

“On the policy: 97% of respondents were against – but on Dec 14th the Tory and Labour groups voted the policy through.  During the “formative consultation” on Clunbury and Lydbury, 100% were against: but the Tory Cabinet voted it through (June).  Political terror eventually forced them to re-think!

“It seems some schools – like Morville,” said Bridgnorth Cllr Colin Taylor – “were actually advised to lower their “Number on Roll” in recent years, to be safe – and are now told they are too small!”

Miles Kenny, Shrewsbury Lib Dem Leader, said “No one can be anything but dismayed at the way the Tories have floundered through a morass of their own making. 

“We are about to develop the budget for 09-10,” said Cllr Phillips, “which the Conservatives said was utterly dependent on closing those 22 schools.  So how are they going to manage?  Their very silence is an indictment of their arguments.”

“Never before have we seen the County Council so discredited, and so dismissive of its Public.  Even the Minister has declared against them.  Those responsible should have the grace to consider their position.”

An Utterly Discreditable Year

Dec 14 2007        “Schools Closure Policy” voted through by Conservatives and Labour.
Jan 30 2008        Tories take fright at Public Protest, reprieve 22 schools.
Nov 19 2008        Electoral terror persuades Tories to seek a way out over Lydbury.

What They Said:

Anne Hartley – at Meole (Autumn 07)
-    If there was strong opposition, she’d re-think the Policy.
97% of respondents vote against.
Policy voted through Dec 14th.

Money or Surplus Places?

Malcolm Pate, Dec 14th, Council – if we got a shed load of money from the Government, we could rethink the Policy.
Anne Hartley, Dec 14th, Radio Shropshire – Money will not solve our problem.  We’ll have x% surplus places and have to solve it.
Liz Nicholson, Music Hall, April – Removing surplus places doesn’t save money.

Lydbury North – Clunbury Amalgamation
-    Formative consultation, Feb- May, is 100% against amalgamation
-    May 19th – Tories vote for amalgamation

Anne Hartley:  “Consultation is not a referendum.”
    Bayston Hill has Referendum.  75% of votes against closing Oaklands.
    Nov 19th: Cabinet closes Oaklands

Travel Costs:
Jan 30th –Closure of some 25 primaries will produce nett extra travel costs of £200,000 (says the Council). 
Nov 19th – Closing Lydbury North – one school!- will produce nett extra travel costs of £45,000 (says the Council)!

FACT at Chirbury School, transporting 35 pupils costs £57,000.

Government Money

Feb 29th     Ministry officials meet SCC officers and note positively that a policy is in place (from Dec 14th) and is being implemented (Amalgamations of Jan 30th).

June        Early Day Motion in Commons from Lembit Opik MP.
SCC has another consultation

October     House of Lords questions tabled by Lib Dem Peer Baroness Walmsley reveal  that Shropshire’s bid sent in 2 months late: queries whether closure etc. should proceed before Government approved money.

Nov 12th      Minister refuses 15 councils’ bids – including Shropshire.  Only 15 of 148 fail!  News does not become public till Nov 18th.

An “Excellent” Council?

Top-stars for SCC; and for its Childrens Service Department –

•    Proposes to close 25 of our schools (“first tranche”).  ALL of which are performing well.   “Excellent”?
•    Utterly fails to respond properly to public questions and views. “Excellent”?
•    Is one of 15, out of 148, to fail its capital bid.  “Excellent”?
•    Is gung ho on mass-closures – essential for Budget and education – but shelves 22 closures on Jan 30th. “Excellent”?
•    Its bid for primary school funds fails – only 15 schools out of 140 fail!

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