Labour and Conservative councillors block plan to pump extra cash into schools

Last night (22 Jan 2020), Labour and Conservative councillors lined up to block further consideration of a proposal for a new charitable fund to pump extra cash into local schools.

A special Council meeting considered a Liberal Democrat ‘call-in’ over the Cabinet’s decision not to further explore a plan that would have invited voluntary donations from those owning the most expensive properties in the borough to help mitigate recent cuts to school budgets.

The plan was first proposed by local Liberal Democrat councillors in March 2019. The Liberal Democrats’ proposal was based on similar schemes currently being implemented by a number of councils, including Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Richmond.

While Labour councillors blocked the plans at the time, Liberal Democrat councillors later (in April) succeeded in compelling Labour council bosses to take a closer look at the feasibility of such a fund.

However, the feasibility study – in which the proposal was ultimately dismissed – had to be ‘called in’ by Liberal Democrats, who argued that key evidence had been ignored and there hadn’t been full consideration of ways to implement the proposal in Merton.

“The Cabinet’s feasibility study was based on limited evidence and assumptions despite there being a wider range of evidence from a number of councils available to the Cabinet at the time”, said Cllr Anthony Fairclough, who proposed the Liberal Democrat call-in.

“The paper was based on somewhat strange assumptions, which led to the claim that only two people across the whole borough would donate to such a fund, despite the fact a number of councils are proceeding with these types of schemes and there is evidence that people will donate.

“We know that Merton’s residents care deeply about their local schools, and we think plenty would be willing to give on a voluntary basis if it meant ensuring our children get the best possible start in life.”

Nonetheless, Labour and Conservative councillors refused to accept that the Cabinet should have made its decisions based on more thorough analysis.

“I cannot hide my disappointment that Labour and Conservative councillors have chosen to push this decision into the long grass”, said Cllr Fairclough. “This is a fresh and innovative idea that could have made a real difference for local schools suffering from repeated budget cuts.

“It was an opportunity for the Council to try something new to help schools and pupils struggling in the current funding crisis. Labour and Conservative councillors’ refusal even to consider new ideas however means that this opportunity will be lost.

“It is a crying shame for students, teachers and parents across Merton. Merton Liberal Democrats councillors were elected on a promise to bring a ‘fresh start for Merton’, and we will continue to identify innovative ways to improve local communities and services.”

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