Saturday, March 25, 2006

Another tragedy on our roads

Another Deepings lad has been killed on our local roads.

Neil 'Ollie' Olson was killed in a collision with a lorry as he walked along Glinton by-pass on Thursday evening. The spot is already marked with fresh flowers.

'Ollie' was married just seven months ago.

My elder daughter was in the same class at school as 'Ollie' and remembers a lovely lad.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

School closures: Trisha keeps digging...

The Conservatives are digging themselves in deeper by the day as they try to justify their daft school closures programme.

The latest nonsense comes from Patricia Bradwell, the Executive member of Lincolnshire County Council who is reported this week in the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper.

"Infant and junior schools have the largest number of surplus places in the county. We have listened to the public but these views have to be balanced against the whole of the primary sector."

You only have to look closely at these two sentences to see how utterly flawed her approach is.

First, the official figures clearly show that the biggest problem of surplus places is currently in the primary schools.

FACT 1: There are less than 2,000 surplus places in the county's infant and junior schools.

FACT 2: There are more than 8,000 surplus places in the county's primary schools.

That's why we need a county-wide strategy BEFORE any decisions are taken.

It is astonishing that Mrs Bradwell goes on to tell us that she has listened to the public's views (overwhelmingly against her daft plan), but the views have to be balanced against the whole of the primary sector.

The whole problem with her fag-packet scheme is that is is NOT balanced across the whole of the primary sector.

She has resolutely refused to tackle the challenge of surplus places by having a balanced approach, ie a county-wide strategy, rather than picking off a handful of vulnerable schools.

New Lincs Logo: Good use of your money?

What's the best way to improve Lincolnshire's tarnished image?

After the scandals, poor performance and failures of the past couple of years, I would have thought that improving services would be top priority.

But Martin Hill's team had a bright idea. They decided the County Council need a flashy new logo.

A firm of consultants has been paid £40,000. And this is what they've come up with.

It will cost another £150,000 to change letter-heads, vehicle liveries and the like.

As usual with those who run our County Council, there was little or no consultation before the money was spent - not even with elected members.

I promise to pass on your comments to those who took the decision that this was the best way to spend YOUR money.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Head teacher resigns in disgust

How deeply sad that an excellent Head Teacher has quit her job over the bungled school closure policies being steam-rollered through by the Conservatives despite massive opposition.

The Lincolnshire Echo front page tonight tells how Lorraine Smith, head at Ermine Infants, Lincoln, says that the decision to close her school was about "politics and not education".

After 13 years in charge at Ermine Infants, Lorraine has been snapped up to be Head of a Nottinghamshire school.

With her school threatened with merger and no guarantee she would have a job at the merged school, who can blame her for quitting Lincolnshire.

She told the Echo that after many sleepness nights, the only reason she applied for a new job was because she couldn't stand to see her school close.

Our over-worked teachers deserve much better than the shabby way they are being treated by the Conservatives at Lincolnshire County Council who simply refuse to listen to reason.

Our children deserve better too.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Did Tony Blair sign the Louth petition?

A petition with hundreds of names protesting the Louth schools mergers was discounted both at the consultation meeting and in today's crunch debate.

There were sniggers all round when we were told that someone had signed the petition John Prescott.

Today, one of the Conservatives voting for closure, made the assertion that the petition was inaccurate.

Councillor Julia Pears called for new rules in accepting petitions after she said someone had signed the petition Tony Blair.

Everyone laughed, until one of the added members said there were actually THREE John Prescott's listed in the Louth phone book.

So John Prescott may well have been a genuine name on the petition.

And who knows. Maybe Tony Blair signed too.

Louth: merged school will have 170 empty desks!

One the most impressive cases presented against closure concerns the Louth decision.

At the meeting to consider consultation results a couple of weeks ago, it was no surprise that there were nil votes in favour of closure of Eastfield Infants and Nursery with Lacey Gardens Juniors.

Between the two schools, there are said to be 244 surplus places right now.

The plan is to create one of the biggest primary schools in the country with 630 places.

But the official projections show that when the new school opens, it will still have 170 empty desks.

Remember that the reason for the planned merger is supposed to be to tackle surplus places...

If the plan is successful, less than a third of the surplus places will be removed.

The quality of protest and well-thought out alternatives presented today were impressive.

There was a ray of hope to defeat the plan when Conservative member for Louth Councillor Pauline Watson appealed to her colleagues to go back to the drawing board.

But she was over-ruled.

All 11 Conservatives with a vote, used it to push on with closure.

All 11 Labour, LibDem, Independent, church reps and parent governors voted against.

So chairman Group Captain Edward Bliss voted a second time to allow the plan to go ahead.

Another overwhelming victory!!

The quality of the Louth case against merger demonstrates that this one will run and run.

Holton-le-Clay: overwhelming case?

When you lose 8-1, it's usually a good idea to admit defeat.

That was the score at the consultation meeting on the plan to close Holton-le-Clay Infants in the north of the county and merge it with Holton-le-Clay Juniors.

There was only one supporter for the idea. Everyone else was against.

But Councillor Bradwell over-ruled the 8-1 defeat and decided she knew better.

What amazes is that she and the Leader of the Council - Martin Hill - seemed genuinely surprised (and annoyed) that the decision would be 'called-in'.

Today, all 13 Conservatives with a vote today fell into line behind the Conservative Whip Councillor Martin Trollope-Bellew.

The 11 votes from Labour, LibDems, Independents, church representatives and parent governors simply weren't enough to stop the plan.

Scrutiny of the Holton-le-Clay decision demonstrates the nonsense of the entire plan which is supposed to be about tackling surplus places.

Instead of coming up with a well-thought out county-wide strategy to deal with 10,000 surplus places in the primary sector, we have a daft back-of-the-fag-packet scheme to pick off a few schools - not even those with the biggest number of surplus places.

Just down the road from Holton-le-Clay is North Thoresby Primary School - which has more surplus places than Holton infants and juniors combined!

But it's not one of the schools proposed for closure or merger.

And in my view, deciding to merge the Holton schools before we have a county-wide strategy could prejudice future tough decisions.

So today's vote on Holton-le-Clay: 13 for closure. 11 against.

No doubt, an overwhelming victory!

No room for 35 Ermine kids at merged school

When the two Ermine schools are merged, current expectations show there will be no place for 35 children who live on the estate.

Councillor Bradwell admitted that the plan removes choice of Ermine parents who would prefer their kiddies to start their education in an infants school.

But at the consultation meeting, no-one mentioned that the plan also removes choice for some children to be educated on the Ermine...

Question: How many of the 14 Conservative councillors who voted to close Ermine Infants and merge it with Ermine Juniors represent Lincoln?

Answer: None.

Ermine - cart before the horse

One of the most incredible moments of the entire surplus schools debate came today when the Portfolio Holder admitted she had not even seen the submission from Lincoln City Council.

I and others were shocked a couple of weeks ago when a senior officer of the council revealed that we had not been supplied with copies of all the letters of protest about the school closures. He said he had a box full of them in his office.

We were supposed to be considering the results of the so-called consultation process. But we weren't allowed to see the responses, not even from Lincoln City Council!

Today was even more shocking. The Portfolio Holder who took the decisions - Councillor Patricia Bradwell - was challenged on why the consultation meeting had not been given copies of the submission by Lincoln City Council.

Instead, the meeting was given a verbal resume - one person's interpretation - of what was in the submission.

Today, Councillor Bradwell was repeatedly asked to supply copies but steadfastly refused. Under pressure, she eventually admitted:

"I have not seen the letter from Lincoln City Council."

How could she have taken due and proper notice of representations if she has not even seen them!

Sadly, the Chairman of today's meeting - retired Group Captain Edward Bliss - refused to intervene.

Instead, he actually proposed that the decision to close Ermine Infants and merge it with Ermine Juniors should go ahead.

So much for the Chairman's impartiality...

He voted for closure, along with all the other Conservatives. The result was a dead heat. 14-14.

You've guessed it. The Group Captain voted a second time...and pushed the Ermine closure on to the next stage.

So the decision was made without the benefit of any members seeing the submission from Lincoln City Council.

In the lunch-break, Labour Group Leader Rob Parker put in an offical request to see the letter under the new Freedom of Information Act.

Guess what? By the end of the day, we were all given copies of the letter.

But only after the decision had already been made!

You talk, the Tories ignore you.

The Conservative's School Closures Policy descended into total farce today during seven hours of debate.

There were a record number of call-in by councillors and added-members asking for the Executive to re-think their daft plan to shut a number of schools with surplus places, despite lack of a county-wide strategy to deal with the real problem in a considered way.

Time only allowed for three of decisions today affecting six schools. The call-ins relating to other schools will be made at a date to be arranged.

The Conservatives showed themselves to be hopelessly out of touch today and blindly determined to keep driving through their bull-dozer in the face of overwhelming public opinion.

Labour, LibDem, and Independent councillors were joined by representatives of the churches and parent governors, calling for the Executive to listen to the public outcry and go back to the drawing board.

All to no avail. The Conservatives pushed on regardless. They didn't even listen to one of their own back-benchers who bravely said there was no justification to close a school in her area.

Sooner or later this flawed process is bound to come unstuck in a big way.

The whole process has been totally bodged and is doing Lincolnshire's reputation no good at all.

What finally became clear today is that the evidence to justify closing the schools is simply not there.

For clarity - and because some viewers may be interested only in particular schools, I'll blog separately on each decision made today.

Monday, March 13, 2006

D-day on school closures

A hard copy of an excellent power-point presentation on one of the infants schools proposed for closure waiting when I arrived home tonight - just in time for tomorrow's meeting to consider the "call-in" of the decisions.

There is clearly a head of steam brewing at Louth against the daft plan to merge the infant and junior schools there into a massive 630-place all through primary school - it would be one of the biggest in the country.

With a record number of call-in requests, the Leadership at Lincolnshire County Council could do worse than actually listen to the reasoned arguments against the proposals.

Until we have a county-wide strategy to deal with the whole problem of 10,000 surplus places in the primary sector, decisions to go ahead with picking off a few infant and junior schools simply cannot be justified.

Vandals strike again

Arrived back in DSJ tonight after a few days away and depressed to see the phone box opposite Deepings School has been trashed yet again.

The clear panels on at least two sides has been smashed for the umpteenth time.

It must cost a small fortune to keep on repairing the panels. It only seems a few weeks since last time.

Why don't the phone company invest in shatter-proof glass?

No doubt they'll be an outcry if the company finally give in and take the facility away, depriving the few kids in the school who don't have mobiles...

Sunday, March 12, 2006

They need holding to account!

Following my blog on Friday about the Leader of the council accusing me of trying to destabilise his local schools, the bad-tempered county council meeting produced another gem.

Leader Martin Hill was angry that the proposals to close and merge schools and claimed the decisions had been "called in" for a re-think for "political purposes".

He seemed blissfully unaware that at least one of the daft decisions was voted against unanimously by councillors of all political parties and none. And that included members of the controlling Conservative group!

Later at Friday's meeting, Christine Talbot, the Conservative Executive member responsible for secondary schools, actually objected the Opposition asking questions.

It's worrying that only months after the Government inspectors headed back to London, the council seems to be slipping back into bad habits.

As a member of the Opposition, I believe our very role is to attempt to hold her, Martin Hill and the rest of the Executive to account.

That's why I'll keep asking the difficult Questions.

Stamford votes yes to get no.

Stamford Mercury website reports that Stamfordians have voted against Stamford Vision's controversial Gateway project by a margin of nearly two to one (see my blog from Friday).

Of 14,897 people eligible to vote in the town, 3,242 visited polling booths with 2,050 opting against the project and 1,184 registering their approval - a majority of 866.

So that's clear then.

Well, of course not! Both South Kesteven District Council and Lincolnshire County Council are involved in the decision, so despite rejection, there'll be plenty still to argue about.

First there was the daft question. You had to vote 'yes' to reject the scheme and 'no' to accept it!

Then there's the poor turnout. Less than one in five of those eligible to vote bothered to take part. So those who don't like the result are already saying it was hardly a decisive rejection of the project.

And in any case, the result of a parish poll is not apparently legally binding.

If it's anything like some of the decisions on closing infant and junior schools, Lincolnshire County Council will totally ignore the voice of thousands of local protesters.

In this case, the reality of the county council's new mantra 'You Talk, We Listen' is proving 'You Talk, We Listen, then we'll Ignore You'.

The Executive Member responsible for Lincolnshire County Council's input was asked at Friday's full council meeting if Stamford result in favour of rejecting the project "two-to-one" would now mean the end of the project.

The Exec. Member thoughtfully replied that he'll be studying the result carefully before making an announcement!

MP called in too late!

Roy Dennis who runs brings news of our MP visiting the Deepings.

Roy says:

South Holland & The Deepings MP, John Hayes, Shadow Minister for
Education, will be meeting with local representatives from the
Deepings (Deeping St James Parish Council, Deepings Partnership and
South Kesteven District Council) at Market Deeping Town Hall on Friday
10 March, to discuss concerns about a proposed housing development in
Deeping St James.

As Rev. Mark Warrick, chairman of DSJ Parish Council points out on, it's a bit late. Building work on the housing development at the corner of Broadgate Lane and Spalding Road is already well under way.

Mark says John Hayes' office seemed taken aback by the news that not only had planning permission been granted, but building started weeks ago.

In fairness to our MP, he was clearly responding to concerns expressed, so probably had no idea that the project was so far advanced - and well past the time for effective protest.

Mark suggests the meeting was arranged in association with Paul Linford of the
Deepings Management - which was why it was held in Market Deeping.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Leader accuses me over surplus places

The row over closing infant and junior schools blew up big time this morning at a meeting of the county council.

I was first on my feet with questions to the Leader.

Waving a copy of story in the local on 20 January which was headlined: "School closures not on the agenda", I informed the Council that Councillor Hill was reported as saying:

"With careful thought, imaginative thinking and cooperation between local schools, they will all be able to stay open."

I also reminded him of a similar quote attributed to Cllr Hill in the Stamford Mercury on the same day:

"...I am confident that...all schools in the bourne and Stamford areas will be able to remain open."

I asked Martin what message that sent to schools NOT in his backyard area which are proposed for closure under his plans to tackle surplus places and aslso reminded him that there were almost 200 surplus places in his own electoral division, Folkingham Rural.

Martin replied at length, complaining that the decision to close schools had been "called-in" for a rethink.

He also said: "Councillor dilks has deliberately attempted to destabilise schools in my Division....I am concerned that he is prepared to destabilise schools for the sake of petty party politics.."

I wonder if he thinks the independent (non political) and even members of his own Conservative Group who voted AGAINST some of the daft proposals are also guilty of the same?

more later....

Another £2 million to Stamford Endowed Schools

When my Conservative colleagues at Lincolnshire County Council decided their spending priorities a couple of weeks ago, they decided they could only afford 52 pence a week per individual on youth services.

Yet they also handed Stamford Endowed Schools more than £2 million of our money to send a few selected Stamford children to public school.

Every school in the county gets its budget cut to pay more to Stamford Endowed.

In my view, it's an absolute scandal, specially when we have have to pay for something that our own children in Deepings are denied access to, no matter how talented...

I've long campaigned against this injustice.

My latest salvo is another written question which I've tabled at today's County Council meeting.

My question to the Executive Member is:

As you will be aware, this Council’s controversial contract to provide some 350 places at Stamford Endowed Schools is open to review later this year when it becomes possible to give two years notification to terminate the arrangement.

Would the Executive Councillor please say when the Review Panel set up to look at the scholarship policy will make it’s report to this Council.

What is the process and timetable by which the Council will decide whether to terminate or renew its contract?

....Watch this space for the answer!!!

For no vote yes, for yes vote no.

BBC TV in the East Midlands gave our friends at South Kesteven District Council a right old roasting on the regional news on Thursday evening.

It seems they fully deserved to have the mickey extracted from them.

SKDC decided to hold a referendum on whether the controversial "Vision" revamp of the town centre should go ahead.

But instead of asking a clear, simple question, the experts at SKDC have come up with a classic piece of gobbledegook.

The question is over-long, convoluted and totally confusing.

The bottom line is that if Stamford people want the development, they need to vote No. And if they want to leave things as they are, they should vote Yes.

Yeah, but no, but yeah, but no but....

Investing in our youth...

I've tabled a written question on the amount of money Lincolnshire spends on youth services to be answered at today's County Council meeting.

My question is:

This Council currently spends 50 pence a week per individual on youth services, far lower than the average shire county.

When this was raised at last year’s budget, there was recognition by the Executive that a step change in funding was needed to invest in our young people and an understanding was given that the shortfall would be seriously addressed this year by the Council.

However, in settling the County Council Budget for the coming year, the Conservative administration increased spending on youth services by just £100,000 – an increase of tuppence on the 50 pence a week figure.

In the same Budget, spending to fund places at a public school increased to over £2m in the coming year.

May I ask the Executive Councillor if she believes the tuppence a week increase as the step change in funding promised a year ago?

Postscript: As the deadline for written Standing Order Questions approaches, the Labour Government is announcing a new investment of £115m to fund a major expansion of the youth services.

I understand that:

1. An average sized local authority will receive around £500,000 in additional investment for youth services over the next two years

2. The amount to be made available to Lincolnshire will be £607,495.

3. Lincolnshire has been named as one of the ten areas to pilot the new youth opportunity card, which will provide a cash top-up aimed at 13-19 year olds who are looked after children or those in free school meals.

Would the Executive Councillor join me in welcoming this real cash investment for our most disadvantaged young people in Lincolnshire?

Would she please say what plans she has to improve the wider youth service in the county?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

School closure decisions called-in

The bonkers decisions by Lincolnshire County Council to press ahead with closing and merging infant and junior schools despite have been called-in by councillors.

I can reveal that by the deadline on Thursday there were 20 call-in notices lodged with the council.

That's easily a record for a call-in, which themselves are rare at Lincolnshire County Council.

As well as Labour, LibDem and Independent councillors requesting call-in, all the Added members have also asked for the decisions to be overturned.

These are church representatives and parent governors. One of them described the decisions as "palpable nonsense".

Sadly, the Conservative back benchers who voted against school closures last week, decided not to go for call-in.