The Coalition Government has cut many millions of pounds worth of school building project funds in Peterborough. John Holdich Cabinet Member for Education Skills and Universities Peterborough City Council attempts to draw some comfort from the strength of Peterborough’s case and the efficiency of its procedures, and the fact that they still have £30 million of their own money to mitigate the harm done. Broadcast at 08:13 on Tuesday 6th July 2010 in the Peterborough Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. The interviewer is Paul Stainton.
STAINTON: Peterborough schools have lost at least eighty million pounds in Government funding. The Education Secretary Michael Gove announced yesterday they were scrapping Labour’s school redevelopment scheme. It means twenty million pounds will now not be spent on improving Orton Longueville School, and the forty million pound scheme to expand Standground College has also been scrapped. The new Ormiston Bushfield Academy which was promised twenty million pounds is now up for discussion, and a further twenty million has been withdrawn from updating IT for every secondary school in the city. Earlier we spoke to Malcolm Ellison Principal at Stanground College. (TAPE)
ELLISON: This is one of the more short-sighted decisions, because it is cutting essentially the future of the country, and endangering the progress that we’ve been making in education ocer the past ten years or so. (LIVE)
STAINTON: John Holdich is Cabinet Member for Education Skills and Universities on Peterborough City Council, Good morning John.
HOLDICH: Good morning Paul.
STAINTON: This is a heck of a lot of money, isn’t it, to take out of Peterborough’s budget?
HOLDICH: Absolutely. I’m devastated both for the schools and the parents of the young people, also for my team who have been working on this for years. But I have to remain positive. When this bid went in we had to go and sing for our supper with ninety six other councils, and only six of us got through, so I think that shows the strength of the bid. Also we’ve just had four inspectors crawling all over the procedures that we’ve been using over the last couple of years and they’ve come out with a green light on that. So if Mr Gove is true to his word he’s going to look at them all individually, then I think we’re in a good place.
STAINTON: Did you expect it to be so huge, the cut? From a largely Conservative Government did you expect them to go quite so big?
HOLDICH: This is no secret in actual fact. Mr Gove before the election made a speech where he said that he would review all the BSF stuff, and only approve them on their merit. That was marginally picked up by the press at the time, but we have been working on that ever since. Because he said it, so therefore you’ve got to work on it. We’ve been talking to our MPs, gearing up ready for this announcement to be quite honest. I didn’t think, as you say, I didn’t think we would lose it all in that way. And we haven’t lost Orton Bushfield yet. That is at a very advanced stage, the planning application is in, it should come out later this month, and we’re ready to roll.
STAINTON: But it’s not signed off is it? And that’s the key.
HOLDICH: But it’s not signed off. But he doesn’t say on that one. He just says he wants to talk to us about it. Well let’s hope that we’re good salesmen and we can keep it.
STAINTON: “Discussions”, sometimes, is a euphemism, isn’t it?
HOLDICH: It’s not all bad news. You know the City Council have been trying to drive up standards, which we are winning on.
STAINTON: Come on! This isn’t good news is it? We can’t spin this can we?
HOLDICH: No no no. What I’m coming to is ..
STAINTON: The problem here John is what I alluded to earlier in the show, that there’s going to be a potential North South divide between fantastic schools with great resources, ie Thomas Deacon, Voyager, in the North of the city, and potentially schools left with pretty poor facilities in the South of the city.
HOLDICH: Absolutely. That’s exactly why we put in the bid for the money, because we always said we’d done phase one in the North, and we would endeavour to do phase two in the South. And that’s why we’ve been bidding for the money, and have been successful in getting it. But the point I was going to make is schools are about good teachers as well, and what’s devastating about this, whilst buildings don’t make good pupils and good teachers, we want to attract the best teachers, and we will lose out I’m sure in attracting the best teachers because we haven’t got the modern facilities.
STAINTON: Yes. And the pressure will be on, won’t it, because parents will want to send their kids to Thomas Deacon, or Voyager?
HOLDICH: There are no places over there, so that’s not on. I’ve got a meeting at nine o’clock this morning. I was in London all day yesterday with the officers. Another meeting at eleven o’clock with the Chief Education Officer. And we will try and come up with a plan to do this. We’ve got thirty million pounds in this process as well, as we discussed before, to move the Stanground pool and create the libraries and the community space. So whilst we couldn’t afford to put in the rest of the money maybe we can make a difference with it.
STAINTON: It’s cost us a lot of money I should think to put in these bids, hasn’t it? Has it all been wasted?
HOLDICH: Absolutely. As Mr Gove said it’s a hugely bureaucratic system. I’ve been through it, and I’ve been through every stage. There’s different meetings that you have to have, different consultations that you have to have. It takes an inordinate amount of time. I think it says in the document it takes up to three years before you start putting a brick on the ground. And it does, and that costs money, because you have to have consultants, you have to have the contractors that the Government says you’ve got to have. So there you go. I think we’ve pushed our contract as far as we can get. This independent inspection we had of our services said that we were getting good value for money, so I’ve got to remain hopeful.
STAINTON: John thank you for that.