Monday 28 January 2013

School Places, Siblings and s106 Transparency

Last week I attended a variety of meetings, the first of which was Monday's Cabinet.  I spoke on two agenda items on behalf of the Conservative Group.

To the School Places Update report I highlighted the inadequate notice given to residents by the administration for the "Let's Talk Education" consultation meetings.  The Reading Post published RBC's press release on the Wednesday, 3 working days before the first meeting (the newspaper's first opportunity to do so).  Attendance at RBC meetings was poor.

In contrast I cited the Caversham & District Residents' Association (CADRA) which had given more than 2 months' notice for their October meeting, having identified the widespread concern about pressure on school places and booked senior RBC education managers to come and speak.  As a result, CADRA's meeting was packed out.

As an aside I raised the point that all councillors share a responsibility to raise awareness of events that affect our residents.  I said everybody in Reading knows how the Royals are doing, however it is self-evident that hardly anyone was aware about the Education consultation.  Councillors therefore could use social media, eg Twitter, to help promote such important events.

My second point related to the forthcoming Education consultation (due March-June).  With the lack of flexibility in pupil spaces in Reading's primary schools, the over subscription criteria are absolutely crucial:  Places must be offered in the most sensible order to serve residents.

I said the wording for sibling questions in the October Consultation's accompanying survey was flawed.  As many of the town's primary schools are near the edge of their respective catchment, families living very close to the school, ie in the local community, can in fact be out of catchment.  [Note: The Conservative Group successfully pushed the Schools Admissions Forum to agree the need to re-consult residents on the level of protection siblings deserve.]

I summed up my comments asking for as much notice as possible to be given to the public for future consultation events; and said I was looking forward to learning residents' views on sibling priority for primary school admissions.

On the Budget Monitoring report I made a single point, namely highlighting one of the improvements to accountability of how RBC spends s106 developer contributions which came about as a result of Conservative concerns and investigations.

I reminded Cabinet members that under the local Conservative led coalition, with the support from our Liberal Democrat colleagues, in 2010 an external investigation was commissioned which reported a number of high priority recommendations to address the failings of the previous Labour administration in Reading.

Both reports can be located here the former is item 9a, the latter 15 (ref paragraph 5.3 and Appendix 3)