Author Topic: SBC 2010 Budget Crisis: School Redundancies planned for nearly 12 months?  (Read 1615 times)

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Offline Geoff Reid

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On the 22nd of February 2010 Councillor Mark Edwards, SBC'c cabinet member for finance delivered his budget speech to a packed Council chamber.

In that speech Cllr Edwards said...

Quote from: Cllr Mard Ewards
"We have not taken a brutal and disingenuous look at our staff and cut numbers without thought or consideration of the consequence. Budget setting is not just about changing numbers on a spreadsheet."

...and last week Councillor Bluh published his 'Budget Challenge' pages on the SBC website, in which he suggests that Swindons budget crisis is an event which has happened upon all of us suddenly, without warning and that it's all labours fault.

I beg to disagree with Cllr Bluh's narrative.

The last labour government may well have left a significant financial problems behind nationally, but many of Swindons Councils current problems are of the Conservative leaderships own making and were well known about in 2009, and most certainly known about prior to the delivery of their 'electorally popular' 2010 budget.  In fact, the harder you look at SBC's recent budget history, the more hints you'll find that the leadership of Swindon Borough Council knew all about the significant problems it was creating but chose to ignore them because it suited them politically.

It seems ever more likely that Bluh and his inner-cabinet were making plans for huge numbers of redundancies as early as 2009 but chose to postphone 'fessing up to them until the elections were over and Bluh was safely in his seat for another 4 years. 

I think you can get a good idea of where Bluh's priorities were leading the town when, in his 2009 Christmas speech to Swindons Conservative councillors, he loftily said:


Quote from: Cllr Roderick Bluh
  “By the time the [2010] Budget is put to bed we will have delivered the best Budget to-date with the lowest council tax to-date with the least frontline impact to-date. I have always said that I wanted this to be so pre-elections, particularly the General.

    We have both the local and general elections only a number of weeks away now and it is essential that we all work a one team to ensure the best possible outcome. Our focus should be electoral success to deliver 2 Conservative MPs for Swindon, a Conservative Government and maintain a strong Conservative council.

    Our first priority for 2010 has to be to secure the election of Justin and Robert as our new MPs.“


Was Bluh deliberately risking public sector jobs just to get re-elected?, I think so.  i also thinks it's obvious that a realistic rise in Council tax - one that would have secured at least some jobs and services - was disregarded solely because it was not seen as electorally 'popular' at the ballot box.

I think it's fair to say that the incoming Conservative government's 'Austerity' budget has provided a  '911' event for Councillor Bluh and his colleagues because it provides them with a 'Good Day To Bury Bad News'.  In fact many good days on which to bury bad news.  The COnservative/Liberal coallition government is creating an almost perfect storm in which the good ship Swindon can have it's sails torn off and hull ripped open, leaving the crew so desperately busy trying to repair the damage and keep the ship afloat that few of the crew will have time to question why the captain ignored the signals from the lighthous and sailed them into the storm and onto the rocks in the first place. 

So, the ships hull is gaping open, taking on water and listing heavily.  Does Bluh set the crew to bailing out the bilges and rowing towards shore?, no. He is about to starting throwing the oarsmen overboard to lighten the vessel and keep it afloat for a little longer, ignoring the fact that the crew is what is keeping him and the vessel afloat.  It looks like he's already been at it for quite a while:

...because, as you'll see if you read the following letter from SBC 'Group Director Children' John Gilbert to headmasters/mistresses of Swindons schools carefully, you will notice some interesting dates, references and inferences that should raise further questions about a council budget which was nearing finalisation at the time the letter was written.  This letter refers to redundancies in Swindons educational system in August 2010 yet it was written in December 2009, almost 5 months before Cllr's Edwards assured the town and its 59 Councillors in February 2010 that:

Quote from: Cllr Mark Edwards
"There is only one genuine, thought out, strategic budget that will deliver for all of Swindon, from Inglesham to Barbury Castle and from the Acorn Bridge to Lydiard Park.

It is the Conservative budget I have tabled before you, and I commend this budget to the chamber."

It was certainly strategic. Politically strategic.


http://www.talkswindon.org/politics/2010-sbc-budget/cuts/education/John_Gilbert_Group_Director_Children/2010%2002%2008%20headteachers_letter.pdf


           


Nevertheless, Cap'n Bluh says:

Quote from: Councillor Roderick Bluh
Given the immediate pressures we face however, it has been decided to re-cast our budget in October. The aim of this is to get on top of the in-year challenge quickly and begin making inroads to the savings target for next year.

Translation: "Quickly, throw more men overboard, I'm still sinking!"


I'll lay a hefty bet that unless Bluh is thrown overboard by a mutinous crew, (unlikely given that most of his backbenchers are apparently spineless, blind, deaf and stupid), Bluh will be the last man politician to leave the vessel, and that the shoulders of many drowned back-benching sailors will bear the marks of his sized nines.

So, to my eyes, Cllr Bluh's 'Budget Challenge' looks more like disengenuous political spin than a genuine navigational chart and plan to get the ship into calmer waters and a safe haven. 




I also note that while Director John Gilbert is heavily involved in 'transforming' the numbers of education staff employed by the Borough, he is alleged to be the only SBC Director to have received a pay rise this year.

Perhaps, because Mr Gilbert is another Non-Dom Director of Swindon Borough Council, his pay rise was needed to cover his rising costs of commuting from Shropshire to Swindon.

Offline Geoff Reid

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Additional:

Hat-Tip to Swindon Lamplighter News-Hack, who would like to point us towards this Swindon Advertiser article Swindon Council Reveals Accounts, which was published on the 3rd of August 2010

Quote from: Charley Morgan
Director of children’s services John Gilbert was given a £8,145 pay rise in 2009/10.


Charley also reports that:

Gavin Jones, was paid a salary of £178,476 in 2009/10

Tory leader, Rod Bluh, was paid a total of £28,579.42  (This figure does not include allowances and expenses he receives from other outside bodies of which he sits)

Five other directors at the council each received a salary of between £100,000 and £140,000.

Five members of staff who are paid between £95,000 and £99,000

Two members of staff who are paid £90,000 to £94,000

Six members of staff paid between £85,000 to £89,000.

One Hundred and Ninetween staff (119) earning between £50,000 and £85,000.

The council is required by law to name anyone who is paid more than £150,000 and also has to publish the positions that are paid more than £100,000.

It must also show the number of employees paid more than £50,000.


We are still investigating how many of the above staff live live in other Boroughs/Cities and whose wages are therefore paid from Swindon Council Tax payers but benefit local economies other than Swindon.

Offline komadori

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I think it's important to remember that at the time that letter was written, the schools budget was ring-fenced, i.e. the amount spent by each authority on schools was determined by central government and local councils were just the conduit through which the money passed. Hence the reference at the beginning of the letter to redundancy being jointly funded by 'the LA and DSG'. The date of the letter coincides with announcements from central government about education funding, as I recall.
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Offline Ringer

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I think it's important to remember that at the time that letter was written, the schools budget was ring-fenced, i.e. the amount spent by each authority on schools was determined by central government and local councils were just the conduit through which the money passed. Hence the reference at the beginning of the letter to redundancy being jointly funded by 'the LA and DSG'. The date of the letter coincides with announcements from central government about education funding, as I recall.

I also think its important that these dates coincide with the letter, as clearly this department was pushing them out possibly before Christmas and certainly around the budget time, odd how this was not covered in leaflets or by politicians in the town. Is this a case of who knew what and when did they know it?

Political conspiracies aside, along with cock ups this thread may yet turn into something interesting don't you think  :spin:
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Offline komadori

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Having just had a look through my catalogue of election leaflets, neither blues nor reds mentioned cuts to education. Both Ms Snelgrove and Mr Hooton claimed they would increase the amount of 1-to-1 tuition in schools. A bit difficult to do when the number of teachers in individual schools is being reduced. Mr Buckland claimed he'd "Allow parents to save local schools and improve education across the board." The second part of that is rather nebulous and gives wriggle room for a politician to try to claim they are improving things whilst spending less money at the same time.

I don't think it's that odd that neither blues nor reds mentioned cuts to education at the time, as both would risk taking the political flack, the reds as the government in power that decreed it, the blues as the local council in power that implemented it.

I'm sure that for years to come, Mr Bluh and his acolytes will be blaming Mr Brown and his economic incompetence for each individual budget cut. But whilst they may justifiably be able to blame Mr Brown for having to wield the axe, exactly which services they chose to fell will be the choice of Mr Bluh's cabinet, and theirs alone.
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Offline moley

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Having just had a look through my catalogue of election leaflets, neither blues nor reds mentioned cuts to education. Both Ms Snelgrove and Mr Hooton claimed they would increase the amount of 1-to-1 tuition in schools. A bit difficult to do when the number of teachers in individual schools is being reduced.

A significant amount of 1:1 tuition is currently performed by teaching assistants (not teachers).

(BTW: my own view is that this isn't necessarily a bad thing - my son is SEN, and has really come on very, very significantly at school since he started getting support and tuition from a high quality TA).

Moley

Offline Chav

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Having just had a look through my catalogue of election leaflets, neither blues nor reds mentioned cuts to education. Both Ms Snelgrove and Mr Hooton claimed they would increase the amount of 1-to-1 tuition in schools. A bit difficult to do when the number of teachers in individual schools is being reduced.

A significant amount of 1:1 tuition is currently performed by teaching assistants (not teachers).

(BTW: my own view is that this isn't necessarily a bad thing - my son is SEN, and has really come on very, very significantly at school since he started getting support and tuition from a high quality TA).

Moley

TA's are the bread and butter of the classroom.
The teacher sets IEP targets, plans, delivers lessons in line with the national agenda/ curriculum/etc etc, but its the TA's who give the support to the kids that need the extra support (especially SEN) to be able to access the curriculum.

They do a sterling job and they deserve more recognition for what they do.

If you have a good team behind you , this has a fantastic impact on the learning and teaching that takes place in the classroom.
"Politics is the skilled use of blunt objects." -- Lester B. Pearson.

Offline Drone

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Absolutely! TAs are usually bloody excellent and give that one-on-one support and encouragement that classroom teachers no longer have time to do. There is a lot of waste in school budgets (PFI contracts spring to mind) but scrapping hard working staff who barely make the minimum wage while contributing huge amounts to the quality of children's education is NOT the best solution.
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