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17 Sep 2013 07:00:00

Localism saves money

MikejonestwoCllr Mike Jones, the Leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council, says localism isn't just about democracy - it also allows money to be better spent

In the current political climate, it is often said that “we’re all localists now”. In Cheshire West and Chester this is a reality and there is strong support on all sides for a future which places more power and responsibility in the hands of our citizens and communities.

Formed as a new council in 2009 we were determined to be a new type of council with localism at its core. For us, it’s about the five Cs:

Communities: We have forged strong relationships with local communities and are tailoring services in line with local aspirations. Our council is structured in line with four localities, we are building comprehensive neighbourhood plans and we are continuing to develop a thriving voluntary and community sector to play a greater role in public service delivery.

Collaboration: We recognise that we cannot afford to operate in a world of fragmented public services which don’t make any sense to our residents. Our Altogether Better programme – known nationally as a whole place community budget – has identified over £100 million of savings to local services over the next five years with the transformation of service delivery by reducing duplication and getting services right first time. In addition, we are expanding our shared services with a number of neighbouring councils.

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16 Sep 2013 07:00:00

Localism in Devon means helping the unemployed find jobs

Cllr-john-hart-80x120Cllr John Hart, the Leader of Devon County Council, says libraries can be used to help enterprises and communities flourish

There is a lot talked about localism, but in Devon - the third largest local authority by area in the country - we’re trying to put it into practice.

We are a very diverse county which includes the city of Exeter, numerous market and coastal towns and many small villages encompassing two coastlines and two national parks.

So it makes real sense to do only what needs to be done centrally at County Hall in Exeter with as much as possible being carried out locally.

We are delighted that Ilfracombe, in the north of the county, is one of the two rural towns piloting the national neighbourhood community budget pathfinder programme. This is in its early days so far but we are committed to the transfer of assets, and citizens have already set up a local board to run their community.

Whenever we build new libraries, we now develop them as community hubs. So in Newton Abbot, Cullompton and Totnes we are ensuring there is enough community space to enable people to gather together.

We have got work hubs in these buildings - as well as in other centres around the county - where Devon’s large contingent of home-workers and small enterprises can rent space and secretarial support – by the hour if they wish – to help their businesses to grow.

We also have information and advice to help support people back into work. Indeed, our Free Fridays provide free computer access in all our libraries for jobseekers and people seeking information about welfare changes.

After the appalling winters of the last few years, we have supplied grit, training and equipment for local volunteers to become snow wardens and clear the roads in their communities which – with more miles of road than Belgium – the county council cannot get to.

We have helped local people develop plans to support the elderly and vulnerable in their communities in the event of emergencies like floods or power cuts. This is necessary because, in a largely rural county like ours, it sometimes takes time to get the utilities back on and restore communities to normal.

Localism is all about developing resilience and helping people to help themselves. After four years of budget cuts, and with more to come, it is vital we reinvigorate the spirit of self-help in our communities.

In Devon I have pioneered a way of helping this process practically with our joint Town and Parish Fund.

Each of our 62 county councillors has £10,000 available to support community groups and organisations in their ward through our Locality Fund. We have also allocated £1 for every elector into our Town and Parish Fund, which is shared out to each district council area, and we have encouraged the district councils to top that up with 10p per elector.

It is then for the towns and parishes to bid for this TAP Fund money to develop projects and initiatives locally to help themselves.

Together the TAP Fund and the Locality Fund cost the county £1.2 million. But it is money well spent in bringing communities together to work on schemes of their choice to enhance their localities, often boosting our seed money with extra revenue raised from other sources.

Following examples like these is perhaps another way the Government could drive forward the new localism agenda, by codifying the relationship between national and local government and giving local councils more power to raise taxes and spend the money where they think it will do the most good for their communities.

This piece appears as part of a collection of essays on the future of local government collated by the New Local Government Network.

13 Sep 2013 11:16:21

Council by-election results from yesterday

Central Bedfordshire Council - Dunstable Northfields:

Ind 434, C 305, Lab 297, Ukip 227, Lib Dem 35. (May 2011 - Ind 877, C 757, 753, Lab 618, 594, Ind 198, Lib Dem 168, 117, Ind 45).

Ind gain from C. Swing 3.3% C to Lab.

Charnwood Borough - Wreak Villages:

C 396, Lab 87. (May 2011 - C 904, Lab 253).

C hold. Swing 3.9 per cent Lab to C.

East Lindsey District - Frithville:

C 221, Ukip 163. (May 2011 - Ind 466, C 229).

C gain from Ind.

Hertfordshire County - Hitchin North:

Lab 1250, C 673, Lib Dem 246, Ukip 235, Green 212. (May 2013 - Lab 1503, C 1070, Green 479, Lib Dem 217).

Lab hold. Swing 4.4 per cent C to Lab.

North Hertfordshire District - Hitchin Oughton:

Lab 361, C 180, Ukip 148, Green 32, and Lib Dem 31. (May 2012 - Lab 638, C 258, Green 103, Lib Dem 50).

Lab hold. Swing 6.0 per cent Lab to C.

The Press Association calculates that extrapolating the swing from these four results equates to a Labour lead over the Conservatives nationally of 2.1 per cent. Just a bit of fun...

13 Sep 2013 06:23:17

Sponsored Academies Week: The remarkable transformation of Grampian Primary School

Today we return to Derby for another sponsored academy success story. This time it has been delivered by the CfBT Schools Trust and has taken place at the Grampian Primary School in Sinfin.

Two years ago only 54 per cent of pupils at the school were reaching the expected basic standard in English and maths - the "floor" all primary schools are required to reach is 60 per cent. The result this year was 100 per cent. The conversion to an academy and the move to replace teaching assistants with teachers were both initiatives opposed by the unions.

Chris Perkins, the headmaster, says:

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12 Sep 2013 06:37:03

Sponsored Academies Week: Competition is driving up standards in Croydon's schools

BarwellGavin Barwell is Conservative MP for Croydon Central

When Conservatives regained control of Croydon Council back in 2006, attainment in our secondary schools was below national average. Labour blamed this on some parents choosing to send their children to one of the outstanding independent schools in the borough or the high-attaining grammar schools across the border in Bromley and Sutton (about one in three parents who chose to send their child to a Croydon primary school did not go on to choose a Croydon secondary school and it was many of the most able pupils who were leaving the system).

But this was a symptom of the problem, not the cause. The truth was that many of our secondary schools simply weren’t good enough. In several of them, only a quarter of pupils were achieving five good GCSEs including English and maths.  So we took the decision to close five schools - Stanley Tech, Coulsdon High, Ashburton, Haling Manor and Selsdon High - and replace them with new academies, two sponsored by Harris, two by Oasis and one by our top-performing local school, Coloma Convent Girls School.

Today - in Croydon at least - closing a poor-performing school is relatively uncontroversial, provided you find the right sponsor. But back in 2008, this was a hugely controversial decision.  It was opposed by the teaching unions of course but also by Andrew Pelling, my predecessor as the Member of Parliament for Croydon Central; by Croydon Labour Party (including my Labour opponent at the last Election who bizarrely called Ashburton a "good community school" despite the fact that it’s results were shocking and hardly any local parents sent their children there); and by some parents, who despite the fact that their child’s school clearly needed drastic improvement understandably worried that change might make things worse before they got better.

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11 Sep 2013 15:12:23

Scandal of the UN's attack on the spare room subsidy cut

Logo PTEarlier this year the United Nations Human Rights Council ran a critical report on Canada . Among those making the criticisms were representatives from the Governments of Cuba, Iran and North Korea.

Now a left wing politician from Brazil complains that our Government's housing policy breaches human rights. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on housing, Raquel Rolnik, has called on the Government to restore the spare room subsidy.

Miss Rolnik is a former Minister in the Workers Party of Brazil, Parti dos Trabalhadores or PT for short, an extreme left wing political party supportive of the Cuban Communists.

So it is no surprise that her "investigation" of housing policy in the UK was merely a two week agitprop tour of assorted public meetings with her British comrades.

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11 Sep 2013 10:32:52

Trying hard to educate Yorkshire

BaldJohn Bald reviews the Channel 4 series Educating Yorkshire

After Vic Goddard's tolerant approach to pupils' negative attitudes in Educating Essex, we have Jonny Mitchell trying to deal with what look like much more difficult problems at Thornhill Academy in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. Educating Yorkshire will remain on C4 for eight episodes, on Thursdays at 9pm..

Five o'clock shadow apart, I found myself liking Mr Mitchell, who is trying to raise standards, disapproves of misbehaviour, and uses the word "punishment". The cliff he has to climb is nevertheless very high, and we can't be sure that he will make it to the top. In the first episode, we see three pupils in his office for tormenting neighbouring pensioners in their home, calling the lady a "white-haired bastard" and knocking her husband's glasses off with snowballs.

One had made up a story about being called a "paki" when it looked as if he had started a fight,  and a girl, placed in internal exclusion for smoking, refused to go, saying the head thought "he could do what he well liked", and didn't care if she was excluded for the day.

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11 Sep 2013 06:18:38

Sponsored Academies Week: Brooke Weston Trust boosts standards in Northants and Cambridgeshire

Today we focus on Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire - with the tremendous contribution to driving up school standards by the Brooke Weston Trust.

In 1991 the landowner, Hugh de Capell Brooke, and Garry Weston, the owner of Associated British Foods founded a City Technology College, now called the Brooke Weston Academy. The school was officially opened by the Prime Minister John Major. This was one of the 15 CTCs introduced after the reforms of Ken Baker. It has consistently achieved excellent results.

Now we are seeing these high standards at other schools that have become part of the Brooke Weston Trust. They are: Corby Business Academy, Corby Technical School, Beanfield Primary Academy, Gretton Primary Academy, Kettering Science Academy and Thomas Clarkson Academy in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire.

In Thomas Clarkson Academy this year 60 per cent of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs at A*-C including English and maths. Just a couple of years ago this figure was only 24 per cent. One of the most alarming aspects was that the school was in denial about the position it was in.

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10 Sep 2013 06:42:57

Sponsored Academies Week: The pursuit of excellence in Nottingham

Barry Day, the chief executive of the Greenwood Academies Trust, is a heroic figure in British education who deserves to be much better known than he is. His particular role has been to help children from deprived backgrounds in Nottingham achieve outstanding academic results.

Last week Michael Gove included in his list of the attacks on teaching, the claim that it couldn't make any difference as socio-economic factors are dominant over life chances - that academic expectations or the quality of teaching are negligible in their impact.

Mr Day's accomplishments help Mr Gove's case in repudiating such defeatism. Previously Mr Day was headmaster of Greenwood Dale School.  The school was outstanding and it was allowed to take over a failing school in the city called Elliot Durham, the third worst performing school in the country in 2007. The new combined school, Nottingham Academy, had 95 per cent of pupils achieving five or more GCSEs at grades A*-C. The figure including for English and maths was 58 per cent.  Back in 2007 just seven per cent of pupils at Elliot Durham School achieved five or more GCSEs at grade C or above including English and maths.

The Greenwood Academies Trust now has 21 academies across the East Midlands:

The Nottingham Academy, 3-19
The Nottingham Girls' Academy, 11-19
The Skegness Academy, 11-19
The Weston Favell Academy, in Northampton, 11-19
The Stanground Academy, in Peterborough, 11-19
The City of Derby Academy 11-16
The City of Peterborough Academy Special School, 3-19 (This is a Free
School project)
The Ingoldmells Academy, 4-11
The Houghton Regis Academy, 9-13
The Mablethorpe Primary Academy, 3-11
The Mansfield Primary Academy, 3-11
The Skegness Infant Academy, 3-7
The Skegness Junior Academy, 7-11
The Queensmead Primary Academy, 3-11
The Sunnyside Primary Academy, 4-11
The Woodvale Primary Academy, 3-11
The Kingswood Primary Academy, 3-11
The City of Peterborough Academy, 11-19 (This is a Free School project)
The Corby Primary Academy, 4-11
The Kingswood Secondary Academy, 11-19
The Skegby Junior Academy, 7-11

The City of Derby Academy opened in June. The school was previously Sinfin Community School, a council run comprehensive with poor results. The response of the teaching unions to the introduction of new management was to call a strike. The Labour council offered "vehement opposition."

Mr Day said of his approach:

We want pupils, no matter what their age or ability, to be proud to belong to the new academy and be proud of their achievements. Whatever pupils' backgrounds, we want to ensure they reach their full potential, with no limit to what they can achieve. Our aim is for pupils at the new academy to be in the best possible position to move on to a successful life beyond school – whether it is in education, training or employment....

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award is a central part of what we do. It is therefore very pleasing that Sinfin already runs a thriving award programme.

We believe in traditional values and so pupils in our academies wear a smart and affordable uniform and are expected to behave to the highest standards. We will consult pupils, staff and parents to decide what the uniform for the new academy will be. We will ensure that parents are not financially disadvantaged due to the introduction of any new uniform.

Several more schools are due to come under the wing of the Greenwood Academies Trust in the coming months.

9 Sep 2013 11:19:35

Pendle Labour councillor defects to Conservatives

PendleWelcome aboard to Cllr Abdul Aziz of Pendle Borough Council who has dfected from Labour to the Conservatives. Cllr Aziz represents the Walverden Ward in Nelson.

Cllr Aziz said:

“I woke up and saw Pendle Labour, their President Azhar Ali, and Leader Mohammed Iqbal for who they are. They run their Councillors like a dictatorship. You aren’t allowed an opinion or to disagree, or you’ll be sidelined, this happened to me and I had the party whip removed. That isn’t what I was elected for. I stood up for what I believed in and they didn’t like it. I wanted the voice of the residents to be heard, and the Conservatives are the party to allow me to do that."

“I have been considering my position for some time now, and have regularly been meeting local MP Andrew Stephenson and Leader of the Council Joe Cooney over a period of months. Nobody is working as hard for Pendle as the two of them. They are the best people to take Pendle forwards, and I want to be part of that progression”.

Councillor Aziz’s defection brings the size of the Conservative Group to 19, and to its highest level in thirty years. The Conservatives are now only six Councillors short of an outright majority.

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