Statement from South Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats on the withdrawal of the Oasis Community Learning bid to take over Winterbourne International Academy:
Eva Lily Fielding, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Filton and Bradley Stoke and Claire Young, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Thornbury and Yate, said:
"We welcome today's news that Oasis Community Learning has withdrawn its bid to take over Winterbourne International Academy. They faced overwhelming opposition from parents, students, teachers and the local community. Well done to everyone involved in the campaign.
This is not the end of the story. The Ridings Federation still has a Financial Notice to Improve hanging over it and needs a recovery plan to get it back on track. We're sure everyone locally will want to work together to ensure a bright future for both Winterbourne International Academy and Yate International Academy."
"This has also thrown up wider issues about how the Government deals with academies that face difficulties. Parents have been shocked by the lack of transparency and the fact that there is no direct way for them to have their say. I have written to the National Schools Commissioner expressing concerns not just about this situation but also the wider questions it raises."
After an angry debate where the Conservative deputy Leader of Council was ordered to apologise, South Glos Tories voted to exclude most councillors from future decision making. Instead, power will be concentrated in the hands of just a few cabinet members, who can make decisions behind closed doors.
Ruth Davis, Lib Dem leader and former leader of a Cabinet in South Glos, said:
“Cabinets are the worst system we have tried. You either believe in allowing members to speak, or you do not. We have been through all the configurations – and we would always come back to the one we currently have. We shouldn’t be concentrating power like this. We were one of the first councils in the country to go back to committees, to involve as many members as possible. We achieved a 4* rating through collegiate working! Now that’s all gone.”
Deputy Lib Dem leader Cllr Claire Young (Westerleigh) proposed that the new scrutiny commission – which will question the decisions of the administration – should be chaired by a member of an opposition group.
“As liberals, we believe in open, democratic decision making. We feel that it is vital for proper scrutiny that the ruling group does not manage the meetings where the administration is being scrutinised. They shouldn’t be left to scrutinise themselves.”
Tories unanimously voted down this amendment, and another suggesting that all parties be involved in writing the new constitution.
Liberal Democrats in South Gloucestershire have slammed the new ‘devo deal’ imposed by Government on the area.
Tories and Labour across the West forced South Gloucestershire into the agreement, where a single Mayor will make decisions covering a wide area of the west, without North Somerset.
Speaking against the proposal, Cllr Pat Hockey (Frampton Cotterell) said:
“I’m going to give a cry for democracy. This isn’t devolution! It’s a mixture of blackmail and prostitution. At least Avon was democratically elected. Who’s the Mayor going to be? It could be anyone. It could be a petrol-head saying no to any public transport. I’m passionate about public transport. When the Greater London Authority was abandoned, public transport there went back 10 years. It happened to us too.
“We are not getting powers, we’re losing them, we’re not gaining democracy it’s being taken away from us. What have we here? Take it or leave it. This is a duff deal! If it’s ‘the best in the country’, there are pretty duff deals and perhaps I should cry for the whole of the UK, not just South Gloucestershire.”
Cllr Mike Drew (Yate) said: “This money isn’t index linked, and no Government can bind its successors. We have no way to know what the next 30 years will bring – but we do know that any key issue involving North Somerset, we’re pretending things stop a few miles south of Bristol’s border. if it’s really a good deal, Government would be willing to work with us to bring North Somerset in. I’m not against a combined authority, but we need to take the time to get it right.”
A council meeting in Kingswood descended into shouting over the local Tories’ intention to concrete over fields near Thornbury.
In the summer, the Council applied to the Government for funds to investigate “Buckover Garden Village”. This proposal is to build 3,000 homes straddling the A38, just to the north west of Thornbury. But the application did not go through any of the council’s democratic processes.
Cllr John O’Neill, representing Charfield said: “This document appeared out of nowhere, with “the council’s full endorsement”. It called it “an exciting prospect”. The council “fully supported” it. But it had never, ever come before a council committee to be discussed. So I asked the leader of council what democratic process it had gone through. He agreed wholeheartedly that we had processes it should have seen – and that it hadn’t gone through any of them. We are still in the dark as to how this decision was reached.”
Councillor Riddle explained at length why he supported it – but didn’t have a single word on how it had been democratically agreed.
Cllr Mike Drew, from Yate said: “What on earth is the point in questions to council when the leader simply chooses to ignore them. We have systems in this council, massive projects like this are supposed to be agreed transparently – even if we don’t like the outcome, it happens in public. This was a secret decision, with no vote and no due process. It’s an absolute disgrace.”
South Gloucestershire residents were horrified to learn that the new Metrobus routes – touted as environmentally friendly transport into Bristol – will instead run using regular buses, kitted out to a years-old environmental standard.
The Metrobus fleet was supposed to be all-new buses, with clean, energy-efficient engines, including hybrids, or bio-fuels. But at a meeting on Friday, the Joint Transport Executive is expected to agree to delay this requirement.
“We were always promised that these new buses would be clean,” said Cllr Pat Hockey, the Lib Dem transport spokes. “They were supposed to be environmentally friendly vehicles, like hybrids, or using bio-fuels. Now, the new rules are going to say any old bus from the last few years can run down the route. The bureaucrats say it’s only for the first two years. But let’s get real. The bus companies are never going to repaint old buses with Metrobus livery, and re-fit them with smart ticketing, if they only expect to use them for two years. They’re going to push to extend this, and we’re going to be stuck with them for ages.”
The proposal is now to allow any buses meeting the old Euro VI standard to provide Metrobus services instead.
“Air pollution kills hundreds of people every year in the Bristol area,” said Cllr Claire Young (Lib Dem, Westerleigh). “The bus companies have had years to prepare for this, and arrange the new, cleaner buses that they should be using on this route. There’s no excuse for relaxing the requirements at this late stage.”