What the Tories grammar school plans mean for local government

In the past few months, we’ve seen Theresa May and her Tory colleagues talking seriously about taking the backward step to reintroduce the grammar school system. Labour understands that grammar schools widen the divide between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more privileged ones and have no place in a society where every child gets the best start in life.

It’s an absolute disgrace that the Tory Government are proposing to categorise children from the age of eleven by way of a test that can easily be abused by those with the cash to do so. This dangerous strategy is underpinned by the Government’s wrongly held view that selective schools are best placed to support underperforming schools.

We know that grammar schools are over representative of advantaged pupils from families with the skills and educational background to support them. Will these grammar schools really be able to improve schools with a greater mix of disadvantaged, lower achieving pupils and the associated problems of child poverty? I don’t believe they will but luckily we know that local government has a proven track record when it comes to school improvement.

Recent data gathered by the Local Government Association has shown that local authorities have more success in raising school standards than academies or free schools. The LGA say that almost nine out of ten council-run primary and secondary schools are rated as Good or Outstanding, which is a higher number than among academies and free schools. Richard Watts, the Chair of the LGAs Children and Young People’s Board, has said that local authorities have continued to prove their effectiveness in raising school standards using their relationship with schools and their in-depth knowledge of their local areas. He has gone on to question the ability of unaccountable Regional School Commissioners to turn around underperforming schools across large geographic areas they know nothing about. I would also seriously question their ability to turn around schools with a pupil make-up of which they have virtually no experience dealing with and very little desire to gain any. and have demonstrated very little desire to gain any understanding.

Social segregation is not the answer to educational improvement, the answer is real investment and real support through local authorities who know their schools, know their areas and have the experience of delivering the best possible outcomes for pupils and teachers.

Cllr Alice Smart- Lead Member for Child Friendly Leeds

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Government plan to take further £100 million from Leeds

Back in 2010, when David Cameron and Nick Clegg where pledging themselves to one other on steps on Number 10, Leeds City Council received £445 million a year in funding from central Government.  This is funding that is spent on front line services here in Leeds – on care homes, public transport, housing and our environment.  The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats cut this £445 million a year right down to £231 million a year – and now, the Conservatives want to take an additional £100 million from Leeds every year.  Leaving us with less than 30% of the Government funding we had before the Coalition came to power 6 years ago.

We’ve seen these ideological cuts to Education, to Health, to Defence and to our Police – but none of them have been cut by 71% as Leeds local Government has.

This has a very real impact on frontline services. Absolute poverty is estimated to affect 155,000 people in Leeds, and local Government is the most effective way of tackling this poverty.  Leeds City Council is doing what it can, by boosting apprenticeships and by paying the real living wage – but the huge cuts from the Conservatives are only taking us backwards.

When Iain Duncan Smith resigned from Government, he himself stated that “Certain policies..are more and more..distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.”

These cuts are a political choice and not an economic necessity, and they are not over yet.

On Wednesday 14th September, Leeds City Council held a meeting of all Councillors, and voted on a motion to condemn the cuts already made to Leeds, and to halt the additional £100 million of cuts.  Unfortunately the Leeds Conservatives voted against this motion.

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The Government’s decision to take all this money from Leeds in such a sustained and counterproductive period of austerity has had an unfair and damaging impact on the city.  There are now 14,000 more people in Leeds, living in deprivation, since the start of these cuts.

Interestingly, this has not been the case in all Councils.  Down South, the Conservative run Council’s of Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire have received payments of £24 million £9 million and £19 million respectively, to help them cope with this imposed austerity.

In fact, if Leeds received the same level of Government funding per person as Wokingham in Berkshire, the council with the lowest level of cuts, we would have an additional £100 million per annum in our budget.

Just think what that could do to our levels of poverty and deprivation here in Leeds.

Cllr Judith Blake – Leader of Leeds City Council

Reclaiming the “Northern Powerhouse”

As an elected member of Leeds City Council, the biggest local authority north of Birmingham, discussions of devolution and the northern powerhouse are never too far away.

There are lots of reasons for Labour councillors to get excited about regional devolution. It has the potential to provide fiscal devolution which would enable increased spending on public transport and local health services and it would be an opportunity to give local communities more of a say about what happens to them and their area. But there are also a whole host of challenges and underlying concerns. Will this just be a token transfer of power from one set of politicians to another? Will the Tories simply use this as a stick to beat Labour councils with?

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This aside, Labour can’t be seen as being afraid of devolution. Instead this is a moment to be bold, to let go and let communities shape the devolved future they want to see. Our party leadership and the parliamentary Labour Party can learn a lot from Labour in power in the north. City councils like Leeds and Manchester are finding innovative ways to make social and economic progress in spite of funding shortfalls. Leeds is the UK’s fastest growing economy and that isn’t because of George Osbourne it’s because of the Labour council. We need to empower Labour councils who are minimising the worst effects of the cuts and showing the positive difference Labour in power can make.

It’s vital that any devolution deal that is drawn up in this region or the next is more than a token displacement of powers. It is of the highest importance that any movement of power is followed by funding because ultimately, you can’t empower local councils if you impoverish them.

The principle of devolution resonates with a lot of local politicians in the north. We need local solutions to local problems and we’ve known for a long time that Westminster doesn’t have all the answers.

For the past couple of years, George Osbourne has been talking about the “Northern Powerhouse”. Despite this being a Tory initiative, I’m sure I’m not the only Labour politician, who despite myself, wanted it to succeed. I hoped that this renewed focus on northern England would bring more growth, prosperity and opportunities to our northern cities and give them the chance to control their own destinies. But the truth is that Osbourne has drastically failed to follow rhetoric with action. Labour should defend the idea of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ because in principle it’s something our party should get behind. But we should also hold the Tories to account over their endemic failure to deliver on their promises.

Labour should be arguing for a more ambitious devolution that shapes a new relationship between citizens and the state and redefines the relationship between local and national government. We need to spend more time talking about what we would do with additional funding and powers. Regional devolution has the potential to play a pivotal role in solving the housing crisis by giving regions greater powers and freedoms when it comes to building affordable housing and Labour should be making this case. It’s not good enough for us just to complain that there isn’t enough power or there isn’t enough money. We need to show that we are the party of the north and we have the answers.

I’ve lived in northern England all my life and I’m very proud of our part of the world. I don’t believe that our part of the country is on the decline and it frustrates me when politicians talk about us like we’re the weak link. Labour shouldn’t see the north as a barrier that it needs to overcome on our route back to government but one of the strongest branches of our movement and our country. We need to stop berating the north and utilise it to make our party and our nation stronger.

Councillor Alice Smart – Armley Ward

The Conservatives promised to boost health spending – now they’re slashing it

Before the General Election, David Cameron said he would not cut Tax Credits. He lied, and he cut Tax Credits. Before the General Election, David Cameron also vowed to boost NHS funding and protect our National Health Services – another pledge which has come unstuck.

Over the course of the last parliament, the Government transferred responsibility for public health from the Department of Health, to Local Government. At the time the government promised to bring public health funding in Leeds up to a “target allocation” that would meet the population needs of the city given its size and diversity. In the first year Leeds received a 10% uplift in our public health budget, but for this financial year the grant was frozen with Leeds still £6m short of the government’s own target. Then just one month after the General Election George Osborne cynically announced he was clawing back £200m from the public health services up and down the country this financial year.

He’s pretending that these are local Government cuts, but these are cuts to front line health services and Leeds will see the largest funding cut in Yorkshire.

The public health budget covers things like sexual health, school nursing, health visiting, suicide prevention, domestic violence prevention, drug and alcohol treatment services and weight loss support as well as health protection services including immunisation programmes and infection control. The Government is slashing funding to all of these, while pretending that they are protecting health spending.

In fact the largest external organisation affected in Leeds, is Leeds Community Healthcare NHS Trust. Definitely an NHS cut.

One group affected is Skyline. Leeds Skyline provides support services for anyone living with or affected by HIV in Leeds. Next week is HIV awareness week, at the same time as the Government is withdrawing funding for vital services for HIV+ people. It is absolutely shameful.

Leeds Labour City Council is doing everything possible to save services such as Skyline, but with the Government raiding the public health budget in Leeds in year to the tune of £2.8million, on top of the existing shortfall of £6million, this is a difficult task.

Skyline demonstrates that these cuts are not just numbers on a spreadsheet, but real people and real lives.

Councillor Lisa Mulherin, Labour’s Executive Member for Health, Wellbeing and Adults is clear about the situation:

“The government promised to protect and enhance funding for public health in Leeds when it moved across from the NHS to Leeds City Council. The events of this year clearly show they had very different intentions. They held a sham consultation over 4 weeks in the school summer holidays and are now ploughing ahead with a raid on the frontline health services we contract predominantly from the NHS and third sector in Leeds. We knew the Government had contempt for local government but this shows complete contempt for the public as well and flies in the face of the government’s claims to be protecting health services. They are not protecting health services: they are cutting them directly through us.”

The Conservatives promised to boost health spending before the election. Their decision to now slash health spending is hitting people hard.

The Government must to stick to the pledge they were elected on, and reinstate health funding to Leeds.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor – Headingley Ward

Leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, writes to David Cameron following the Prime Minister’s Council Cuts hypocrisy 

Dear Prime Minister

I am writing with regards to your recent letter to Councillor Ian Hudspeth, the leader of Oxfordshire County Council, and the offer of a meeting with your advisers in the Number 10 policy unit in order to discuss the implementation of local government cuts in your area.

In your letter to him of 14th September you stated:

“In that context, I would be happy to initiate a further dialogue with advisers in the No10 Policy Unit and yourself – please contact Sheridan Westlake if you wish to take this up.”

Letter from David Cameron to Ian Hudspeth, 14 September 2015, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/11_11_15_cameronletter.pdf

I note from media coverage and Labour MP Jon Ashworth’s letter to Sir Jeremy Heywood, that were this offer available to Oxfordshire Council only, as the local authority relevant to your own constituency, you would be in breach of the ministerial code which makes clear that your Ministerial facilities should not be used for constituency activities.

I therefore write to request a similar meeting with your Number 10 Policy Unit.

I share your concern about cuts to frontline services, including elderly day care centres, child care centres and libraries and agree that cuts to these areas would be ‘unwelcome and counter-productive’.

As a council we have borne the heavy burden of the last set of local government cuts by making all the ‘creative’ and ‘back office savings’ we can. Having made those savings, we are now faced with further budget cuts handed down by central government and we now see no other option but to consider cuts to front line services that will hit children, the elderly and the vulnerable in Leeds.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Judith Blake

Leader of Leeds City Council

Letter from Councillor Peter Gruen to the Yorkshire Evening Post on Housing 

Too many young people are unable to get onto the housing ladder to get the necessary loans for their first home or to get off the very lengthy Council registers and into a home at an affordable rent. 
The Government says it wants to encourage the building of 200000 houses per year. However I argue that words alone have never built anything; it’s actions we need. 
Councils like Leeds want to lead this housing revolution by building new Council homes for young people to rent and use our brownfield areas to build homes, so that people can afford to put down a deposit and get a decent mortgage.
The letter below points up some of the real issues, it would be great to have a debate about this.

Sir
I have followed your debate regarding the ‘Housing crisis’ over recent days. Credit where it’s due- thank you for giving ‘air time’ to what undoubtedly IS a crisis.
Simply put, we are not building enough homes for people, who are desperate to find a roof over their heads. We have not built enough homes for far too long. Why not? Certainly here in Leeds we have tried for the past five years. We have set up an ambitious multi million pound Housing Growth programme, we are leading the way with bringing back into use many hundreds of empty properties, the Little London, Beeston and Holbeck PFI project would not be happening but for our financial support, and we are moving ahead with future allocations for housing.
But your summit missed one essential truth- the elephant in the room is the Government. First they instructed the banks to exclusively concentrate on building up their monetary base and by doing so raised the barrier so that people who could afford a sensible mortgage, could not put down excessive deposits. Then we had -and still do -the distractions of blaming everything apart from building homes; so it’s the Planning system that’s too slow, not enough brown field land is being released- when Government itself sits on vast areas of non-used land, we’ve had numerous financial gimmicks on the supply side and Goodness me then we come to ‘Right to buy’! This of course totally undermines the principle of social housing as a legitimate alternative provision in the market place. So publicly funded new or improved housing has to be sold off with massive discounts and without adequate compensation to Councils to build more new affordable homes.
Let’s get real. If we want to arrest the crisis we need to invest proper money to build new homes and we want them to be in line with our ‘Leeds Standard’, which I introduced 12 months ago- adequate space, energy efficient, attractively designed and fitting the neighbourhood, environmentally friendly, life time accessibility and a mix of types to cater for families and single people. 
Surely, as we stand on the threshold of building many new homes, this is not too much to ask for ?
Councillor Peter Gruen,

Councillor for Crossgates & Whinmoor 

Letter from Chair of Adult Social Care, Public Healthand NHS Scrutiny Board to the Yorkshire Evening Post on Junior Doctors

Sir

So later on today we shall see thousands of ‘junior’ doctors and many sympathetic colleagues as well as the public demonstrate in the centre of Leeds and many other cities nationwide. Why has it come to this?

There is no doubt that patients would welcome the increased flexibility of access to their GPs which seven day cover would mean and the assurance that if they happen to need hospital treatment at the weekend, they will find both staff and time to be treated, as if it were a weekday. From all I have watched, listened to and people I have spoken with doctors do not disagree with this principle; after all they are in the job to improve people’s lives and make them better. No, the issue at hand is once again the manner of the consultations by Government, the doubts about their integrity and real intent and their five year track record of bringing the NHS almost to bankruptcy.

Why at this very moment Leeds is struggling to even begin to find in-year revenue savings of around £2.8 M; which have just been imposed on Public Health by Mr Osborne. Oh and by the way that consultation took place in four weeks in August! Enough said!

So called ‘junior’ doctors are of course young people who have studied for up to ten years, who carry very serious responsibilities in hospitals and make life and death decisions every day. Their work- and that of all their colleagues in the NHS- deserves recognition, respect and thanks.

Yours

Councillor Peter Gruen

Chair of Adult Social Care, Public Health and NHS Scrutiny Board

Remember, Remember it’s NoVOTEmber

On 1 December up to 2 million people could easily drop off the electoral register.  That’s on top of the 8 million who are not on the register at all.

That’s 10 million people – or 1 in 5 of all eligible adults – who won’t be able to vote.

These changes are happening because the Government is rushing changes to the way we register to vote, against the advice of its election watchdog, the Electoral Commission.

Leeds Labour says: ‘Whether you love us, loathe us or really can’t make your mind up some days – it’s your right to have your say. #NoVoteNoVoice’

So before it’s too late…

  • Check if you are on the register by calling Leeds Elections Office 0113 2476726
  • If you’re not on then sort it online here – It takes 5 minutes – and you’ll need your National Insurance number if you have one. (And remember if you are a student you can register at both your home address and your Leeds address)
  • Once you’re sorted than get friends, family and housemates to check as well.
  • You can print off the form here if people want to fill in a paper copy. Completed forms need to be posted to Electoral Services, Level 2, Town Hall, The Headrow, Leeds LS1 3AD or handed in at the Town Hall Main Reception.

If you try to get this sorted and are still having difficulty then email jonathan.pryor@leeds.gov.uk or ring and leave a message on 0113 2476726.

We’ll help as far as we can. And no-one will ask you anything about how you vote.

Let’s avoid it becoming NoVOTEmber and and make sure we find Leeds’ #MissingVoters

If you’ve got other questions about voting then try http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/

Tory cuts to vital local services in Leeds just keep coming

Leeds Labour Councillors have reacted angrily to a report that predicts a cut in funding by the Tory Government for the council’s services of nearly £70 million per year by 2020. This is on top of cuts to Health service funding announced within weeks of the new Conservative government taking office.

Since 2010 Leeds Council has been subjected to Tory cuts totalling £180 million which is some 40% of the funding towards providing local services despite 1-in-5 Leeds residents living in a deprived area.  Had Leeds received  a similar funding settlement to Surrey County Council then last year there would have been an extra £17 million available for Council services. Not only are the Conservatives attacking local services they are treating different parts of the country unfairly.

Along with the cuts impact of inflation and rising demand for many services the funding gap identified for 2016/17 is £49 million in the report which will got to the Council’s Executive Board on October 21st.

Leader of Leeds City Council Judith Blake commented:

“It’s wholly wrong that Leeds has taken a massive hit in terms of funding reductions in the last five years, especially compared with better off areas in the South. Money raised from Council Tax and other local income will have to stretch further and further to cover everything we consider vital. There is no doubt that the challenge for the city will grow as the Tory Government shrinks funding for services alongside hitting many residents’ incomes with cuts to Tax Credits. “

Child Friendly Britain?

Cutting child tax credits, scrapping free school meals and axing Britain’s child poverty targets; the Tories are making life very difficult for children in Britain. 

Time and again we’ve heard Cameron and Osbourne trot out the line ‘we’re all in this together’ but it’s obvious that they’re not willing to offer a helping hand to anyone who isn’t old enough to vote for them.

With life in Britain becoming harder and harder for children and young people, the role of Labour councils is more important than ever. Labour councils throughout the country are harnessing the power of local government to give young people the best possible start in life and bending over backwards to mitigate the worst effects of Tory cuts on children and their families. Here in Leeds, we’ve been able to keep every single childrens centre in the city open, we’ve dramatically reduced the number of young people not in education, employment or training and we’ve recently halved bus fares for 16-18 year olds.

This ethos comes to life in our ambition to be a childfriendly city. The Child Friendly Leeds campaign was set up in 2012. Since then the campaign has built strong links with local businesses, charities and schools, gained the support of 350 ambassadors across the city and we’re about to hold our third annual Child Friendly Leeds Awards to recognise those who help make Leeds a place where children are valued and supported. This ambition of a child friendly city might sound fluffy but theprinciple of putting children at the heart of the city speaks directly to our values as Labour councillors. We want to give everyone a good start in life and protect those who are too vulnerable to look after themselves. This is what Child Friendly Leeds is all about and it poses a stark political contrast with David Cameron’sattitude towards children and young people.

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I’m proud to live in a city that strives to be child friendly. If only we lived in a child friendly country too. The last Labour government set the ambitious target of abolishing child poverty by 2020. Sadly the Tories have turned their back on this promise but I’d love to see the Labour Party recapture that same level of ambition when it comes to making every child in Britain feel valued and supported. It’s a long time until the next general election; something those of us in localgovernment are all too aware of! Children in Britain will have to face another five Tory budgets before we have a shot at getting another Labour government. I hope the Labour Party will take inspiration from Leeds over the coming years so that we can enter the 2020 election with the radical aim of becoming a child friendly country.

Councillor Alice Smart – Armley Ward
Support Executive Member for Child Friendly Leeds