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Camden New Journal - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Published: 29 May 2008
Rush on school decision

• THE issue of where to locate Frank Barnes School for the Deaf and other special needs schools is an extremely important one, and not in need of the spin that newly-elected Lib Dem councillor Matt Sanders gives the saga in the letters pages (Solutions, May 22).
Cllr Sanders attacks Somers Town ward representatives for daring to question the decision to co-locate the Frank Barnes at the Edith Neville Primary in Somers Town.
Can I remind Cllr Sanders that we wouldn’t even be having this discussion if it hadn’t been for Labour and Green councillors “calling in” the decision to move Frank Barnes special school out of the borough, against parents’ and pupils’ wishes? Indeed, even at the scrutiny call-in, which I was proud to be part of, I was flatly told by the Lib Dem chief whip that there was “no point” in asking for the Tory/Lib Dem executive to reconsider as “they’d made their minds up.”
Luckily we ignored his advice and pressed ahead. As a result a special working party was set up by the opposition chair of schools scrutiny to look at the options. The results of this special panel were reported back, looking at further options for the school in the borough.
As I understand it, it was only at this point (January 2008) that the matter was fully discussed within the Lib Dem group at the Town Hall.
Perhaps if they’d looked at this earlier they wouldn’t have been in the unhappy situation they found themselves in. Sadly, it seems that Lib Dem backbenchers don’t have much sway in decision-making and are just voting fodder for their leadership.
Thankfully, and thanks to pressure from parents, the executive caved in and had another look at the issue. But instead of looking at long-term options such as a state-of-the-art school on the King’s Cross site – where the council has already negotiated space for a primary school – the Town Hall turned at the last minute to Edith Neville in Somers Town.
This is what was being questioned last week by my colleagues, who were concerned about the lack of proper consultation with parents and staff at the school.
The simple fact in all of this is that the Lib Dem-run Town Hall is in a rush to put through its plans for an academy before the 2010 local elections, as revealed by Lib Dem John Bryant’s extraordinary leaked email to you at the beginning of the year (“we want demonstrable signs of delivery before 2010…”).
This rush has compromised good decision-making by councillors and officers.
Questioning of this sort at full council always sees Lib Dem backbenchers shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
They know that the decisions made around the relocation of special needs schools to fit their new academy in the north of the borough were undertaken with less regard to the public interest and more with an eye to their perceived political benefit in future elections.
The government’s £200 million Building Schools for the Future can still be good news for Camden, but I worry that its inauspicious start has led many close to our schools to question the direction Camden is taking.
CLLR Theo Blackwell
Labour, Regent’s Park ward

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Camden New Journal, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to The deadline for letters is midday Tuesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld. Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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