City council accused of making big policy changes in secret

Robert Sutcliffe

A LEADING opposition councillor has accused the new Labour/Green partnership in charge at Leeds City Council of making major policy changes in secret.

Coun Alan Lamb, shadow Cabinet member for Children’s Services, has questioned the decision to cut up to 1m of funding via a delegated decision which will be taken by council officers and not by councillors at the regular Executive Board meeting.

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By taking this decision away from the Executive Board, he says, there are concerns that schools themselves will be left to face the backlash of this funding decision when in fact it was taken by the council. Coun Lamb has written to the leader of the council, Coun Keith Wakefield, and the Executive Board Member for Children’s Services, Coun Judith Blake, to ensure that this report is brought to the Executive Board where it can be fully debated.

Coun Alan Lamb said: “Given the budget deficit left by the last Government it is vital that local authorities look to make efficiency savings as quickly as possible. These proposals will make big savings but we need to ensure that there is full public scrutiny.

“At the moment it appears that the current administration want to make this decision behind closed doors without the proper debate that would have taken place if this report had gone to the council’s Executive Board meeting.

‘’The community use of school buildings policy is certainly in need of modernising, however I am concerned that the changes will mean some organisations will no longer be able to provide services and activities that are really important to local communities.

“It is therefore vital that the hardship fund that forms part of these proposals is used to safeguard the most valued and effective services.

“It is also unclear as to how schools will be affected, by taking this decision in this way, schools could be left to face difficult questions from community groups who will no longer receive free use of school buildings.

“This report should be debated at Executive Board where schools, the general public and community groups can witness and participate in the debate. There is nothing to be gained by taking this decision behind closed doors.”

But Coun Jane Dowson, executive board member for learning at Leeds City Council, hit back saying: “This decision is a policy that the Conservatives and Lib Dems voted through with their budget in February this year.

“To rescind on this decision now would cost the council around 800,000, money we simply can’t afford to lose in the current financial climate.

“The situation as it now stands sees schools receive funding from the Government to pay for extended services while at the same time we the council are also reimbursing them for the use of their facilities.

“This sort of double funding is exactly what we need to be looking at when we’re trying to make savings. We are not preventing community groups from using school facilities, there will be a support fund set aside to help those groups who need it.

“This is a situation we have been forced into, both by the previous administration, of which Coun Lamb was a part, and by the Conservative Lib Dem government.

“All we have done is ensure that all possible means have been put in place to ensure that as many groups as possible will continue to be able to have access to school facilities.

“Coun Lamb is completely wrong in his allegation that this has not been through the proper process.”

She said she was disappointed Coun lamb was trying to stir up unnecessary anxiety.