South Gloucestershire Liberal Democrats accuse Conservatives of “having their head in the sand” over the scale of the funding crisis in local schools
There were passionate exchanges at Wednesday night’s meeting of South Gloucestershire Council as councillors debated a Lib Dem motion calling on the Conservatives to do more to tackle the funding crisis in South Gloucestershire schools. Conservative Council Leader and Education Executive Member Toby Savage dismissed the recent BBC Documentary series “School” as showing a misleading picture of South Gloucestershire’s schools, leading to angry cries and derision from the public gallery and opposition councillors.
Local Lib Dem education spokesperson Cllr Ian Blair said: “Cllr Savage claims that he understands the pressures that local schools are under, but his attitude suggests otherwise. Rather than accept our motion calling for more action, he watered it down and made self-congratulatory comments about the amount of money the Conservatives have spent on school buildings and his reintroduction of an education awards ceremony. He doesn’t seem to get it. Our schools are at breaking point. Two out of three of our primary schools have had to cut class room assistants due to budget cuts. Half have had to cut teaching hours. This is not the time for the Cllr Savage to pat himself on the back. He and our three Conservative MPs need to increase the pressure on the Government for urgent extra funding – otherwise residents may begin to wonder what the point of them is.”
Lib Dem Group Leader Cllr Claire Young said: “As a parent with children in local schools I found it deeply frustrating to hear Cllr Savage try to downplay the problems our teachers face. Under his leadership South Gloucestershire has become the national poster-child for schools in crisis as a result of the BBC’s School documentary series. Yet Cllr Savage accused the documentary-makers of selectively editing the program to make the situation in our schools seem worse than it really is. Having heard from dozens of local parents and teachers, I can assure him that the documentary painted an all-too-familiar and accurate picture of the state of our schools.
“My worry is that if Cllr Savage doesn’t really believe that things are all that bad in our schools then that will be the message he reflects back to Government. He claims that he and our local MPs are already lobbying Government for more funding, yet there is little sign of it. Since he has been in charge of education at South Gloucestershire we have slipped down the league table to become the worst funded authority in the country for education. If his performance was graded in the same way that our schools are he would be found “requires improvement.” The situation in our schools is nothing short of an outrage. The Government needs to be shamed into action before it is too late.”
Body blow for Thornbury Health Centre as Government refuses funding bid
The long-running campaign for a new health centre for Thornbury has received a major set-back after the Government turned-down a bid for the £10million of funding needed to complete the project.
Thornbury Lib Dem councillor Shirley Holloway said: “This is a huge disappointment for Thornbury and everyone who has campaigned for a new Health Centre for so long. The intention was that the Health Centre would house GP surgeries, as well as outpatient services, a mental health centre and a community outreach centre – facilities that are dearly needed here in Thornbury. It feels like we are now back to square one.”
Fellow Lib Dem councillor Maggie Tyrrell said: “Luke Hall MP and local Conservative councillors have been very good at claiming they are making huge progress towards getting Government funding for the Health Centre. Now the news that the Government has denied their £10million funding bid has been slipped out without fanfare. It appears they don’t have the influence with Government they thought they did, despite the stream of press photos of them with Ministers. I will be asking for an urgent review of what went wrong with this bid, why the Government do not apparently see Thornbury as a priority, and how they can salvage plans for the Health Centre. How many more times will Thornbury be told it’s about to get new health facilities only to be let down again?”
Liberal Democrats in Filton and Bradley Stoke are reaching out to Conservative MP Jack Lopresti, who is yet to publically say whether he will support Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
Louise Harris, Lib Dem Parliamentary Spokesperson for Filton and Bradley Stoke, said:
“Jack and I are on completely different sides of the aisle on Brexit, that much is clear, but I would hope we can meet in the middle on the fact that this deal represents the worst of both worlds. Brexiteers like Jack did not want to see this deal that keeps us tied to EU regulations perhaps indefinitely. Remainers like myself did not want to see this deal which will damage our economy.
“The risks for our area of this deal going through are extreme. Large employers like Airbus and Rolls Royce will not tolerate the uncertainty it represents.”
Louise goes on to call for Jack Lopresti to stand up to the Government:
“I will never agree with Jack that Brexit will be beneficial to our country, but I am calling for him to take a principled stand from his own position. The Government is driving our country off a cliff here. He cannot stand by and let it happen like this.
“I want Jack to join me in calling for a People’s Vote now that we have seen this deal. This deal represents the worst of both worlds, and we cannot let it be stitched up in Parliament by party whips. Brexiteers like Jack have been calling for the will of the people to be respected, they must now accept that that means asking them what they think of this catastrophic situation we find ourselves in.”
A prominent Liberal Democrat has spoken about her dismay over MP Luke Hall’s decision to support Theresa May’s Brexit deal in a strongly-worded statement.
“Once again, Luke Hall has put career before country and his constituents,” said Claire Young, leader of the Liberal Democrats on South Gloucestershire Council.
“Even the Brexit Secretary, supposedly in charge of brokering this agreement, has walked away saying he cannot back it. Nobody, whether they voted Leave or Remain, voted for this travesty. It will cost us almost £40 billion in divorce fees, it keeps us aligned with EU rules we will no longer have any say in, and it will make us a poorer country.
“Luke Hall’s toadying up to the Prime Minister in hopes of landing a ministerial job is an embarrassment. The people of Thornbury and Yate will rightly be disgusted with him.
“The Liberal Democrats are calling for everyone to have a vote now we’ve seen the deal. However you voted in 2016, it is right that you have the chance to tell the Government to abandon this pathetic excuse for a deal.”
South Gloucestershire Lib Dems have expressed their support for the 58 local head teachers who have come forward to warn of a financial “cliff edge” that will leave most South Gloucestershire primary schools in the red and unable to cope within the next three years.
South Glos Lib Dem Council Group Leader, Claire Young, said:
“South Gloucestershire has become a national symbol of schools in financial crisis as a result of the BBC’s School documentary series. Now the whole country knows what opposition councillors in South Gloucestershire have been warning about for years: that our schools have been chronically underfunded and that this is affecting our children’s education and life chances.
“I welcome the 58 head teachers’ bravery in coming forward to make their concerns public. It is an unusual step for teachers to speak out so publically. The fact that they have felt forced to do so now just goes to show how desperate the crisis in local schools has become. The Conservatives need to heed these warnings before it is too late.”
South Glos Lib Dem Education spokesperson, Cllr Ian Blair, said:
“South Gloucestershire’s Conservative Leader Toby Savage painted a rosy picture of the Chancellor’s recent Budget, claiming it was “positive” for schools. But many local teachers will have been insulted by the Chancellor’s so-called “little extras” for schools, which will amount to just a few thousand pounds per school at a time when schools are being forced to cut teaching assistants and other basic essentials.
“Cllr Savage pledged that improving local education was one of his highest priorities when he became Council Leader. If he really means that, he should back local head teachers and demand a better deal from Government, not just toe the Conservative party-line that there is no crisis.”