Labour councillors are disappointed that only one Wandsworth School is to benefit from the Priority School Building Programme, announced today by Michael Gove.
After significant delays in announcing the chosen schools, it was today revealed that Chestnut Grove School, a local Academy, is the only school to be chosen in Wandsworth to receive funding under the new scheme, despite many remaining in desperate need of maintenance and repair work to their buildings.
This scheme replaces Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme, which the Coalition quickly scrapped in its first few weeks, cancelling school building plans for more than 700 schools nationally. Now, just 261 schools are to receive support under Michael Gove’s PFI-funded plans.
Cllr Sheila Boswell, Wandsworth Labour’s spokesperson for Education said,
“Whilst I welcome this funding for Chestnut Grove, many other schools in Wandsworth are also in grave need of investment for their buildings; the kind of investment they would have received under Labour. The Elliott School is in very poor repair, as well both Graveney School and Battersea Park School who were due to be helped under Labour’s Building Schools for the Future Programme – all are now losing out under the Coalition.
“This shows the government’s lack of commitment to investing in education, leaving schools in conditions barely adequate to teach in. This despite the fact we know pressure on schools is growing, as more and more pupils each year are applying for places. Labour in Wandsworth want parents to have real choice of great Wandsworth schools, but this choice is diminished when certain schools are left in poor condition. Unlike the Conservatives, Labour would make this a priority”.
After Labour raised concerns about the Government’s unfunded promise to increase dramatically the number of childcare places for two-year olds, Wandsworth Tories have agreed to a cross-party lobby to get the funding to pay for the plan.
Labour’s new education speaker, Sheila Boswell, gave this speech to Council on Wednesday night:
‘Big promises to increase free childcare places for disadvantaged two-year olds make great headlines. But with no guaranteed funding attached, this is yet another example of fine words from this Government on family policies – with NO clarity on how, when, and if funding will actually be provided to deliver it.
The Government’s own report states: “We propose to work with local authorities, to consider the approach to distribution of the Early Intervention Grant in time to feed into decisions about allocations for September 2013” That’s just 15 months away. Yet this does not appear to have happened.
The so-called ‘uplift grant’ of £495,000 falls far short of the estimated extra cost of £2.6million and you admit that: “ there is currently no confirmed additional Government funding approved.”
In Wandsworth where currently there are 102 free full or part-time childcare places for disadvantaged 2 year olds, with a further 86 planned. Increasing provision again by a further 700 places by 2014 will be a big challenge.
At the same time Cameron announces this unfunded plan the Tory-led Coalition is rushing to undo tried and tested Labour initiatives like SureStart, which if it had been expanded instead of being cut, could have provided the extra childcare places needed.
Despite a commitment in the coalition agreement to protect funding for Sure Start, its budget has been merged into the new local authority Early Intervention Grant, which must, in addition, fund mental health in schools, youth crime prevention schemes and teenage age pregnancy programmes.
This Government risks setting service against service, while it absolves itself of all responsibility and local councils are left to pick up the pieces with services fighting between themselves for funding. The Tories are applying a dog-eat-dog ,market approach – where there will always be losers – to such essential services as state-funded childcare for the poorest. This benefits no one.
It doesn’t make economic sense either: nationally over 30,000 mothers have given up work in the past year because they cannot find affordable childcare – that just ends up costing the taxpayer more.
The time of easy headlines for this Government is over – the opportunity to turn around disadvantaged toddlers’ lives, who through no fault of their own are born into problem families, cannot be compromised by failure to ask difficult questions and demand answers.
The Government’s own statement at the Early Intervention Grant launch said : “We want local authorities to be more transparent about what they are spending on children’s services so they can be held to account locally.” I suggest you start by holding the Government itself to account on its promise to toddlers, that without added funding they won’t be able to keep.
Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has told the House of Commons he believes all playgrounds should be free – piling pressure on Conservative-led Wandsworth Council to back down from its plans to charge children, as young as eight years old, to use Battersea Park’s Adventure Playground.
Responding to a question asked by Labour MP Sharon Hodgson in the House of Commons on Monday, Mr Gove said: “We want to make sure children can have the opportunity to play and enjoy play without fees or bureaucracy getting in the way. “It is one of the responsibilities of local authorities to ensure children have an opportunity to play freely.” Mr Gove’s comments are in stark contrast to the decision by Conservative-run Wandsworth Council to start charging children £2.50 to use Battersea Park Adventure playground this autumn – a policy which is being trialled with a view to charging at play areas across the Borough in 2012.
At the weekend, hundreds of protesters – led by London mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone – demonstrated their anger at the policy, by participating in a ‘play-in’ at the Battersea Park playground. Protesters were joined by Wandsworth Labour Group leader Councillor Rex Osborn, Tooting MP and shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan, as well as local residents including actress Prunella Scales and artist Brian Barnes MBE. Commenting on Mr Gove’s comments, Cllr Osborn said: “It’s time for the Wandsworth Tories to back down from this ill-advised policy.
Not only are local residents appalled at the idea their children should have to pay to play, but the Government’s Secretary of State for Education has also now come out in public support of the right of children to play for free. “Britain’s parks and playgrounds should be free and accessible to all – and must not become yet another service from which struggling and hard pressed families are excluded. Over the last year, Wandsworth Council has already removed the right of children to swim for free in the Borough. Now they are trying to impose a tax on their playgrounds as well.”
Ken Livingstone, Labour’s candidate for London Mayor who was at the ‘play-in’ on Saturday, said: “Only the Conservatives could consider charging kids to play. I’m deeply concerned at this attempt to turn publicly funded playgrounds into areas which only the rich and privileged can enjoy. Wandsworth’s Council’s plans were tabled by outgoing leader Edward Lister, who has been appointed Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor and chief of staff. Mr Livingstone added: “This appalling proposal will reinforce fears he’ll be driving through a hard-right agenda at City Hall.”