The recent sham consultation into closing small West Sussex schools raises huge concerns about the workings of our county council.
Both Clapham and Patching and Rumboldswhyke schools had been offered rescue packages from Worthing High School and Bishop Luffa Academy respectively.
But officers and cabinet members wouldn’t listen or halt the consultation process to give the schools time to work with their new partner schools.
In the case of Rumboldswhyke, not one but two Freedom of Information requests have revealed emails from last year (dated April 29 and June 14) both stating in black and white the county had decided to close the school months before the “consultations” which came later.
Scrutiny select committee recommendations in favour of the small schools were brushed aside by a non-listening cabinet.
In the light of the coronavirus outbreak to keep communities strong and vibrant we need local schools.
To keep my community in Whyke resilient, we don’t need a two or three-form entry primary school in Tangmere. We are fighting for Rumboldswhyke School to stay at the heart of our community and parish.
The recommendations from the John Coughlan report from October last year into West Sussex’s children’s services* are clear: the county council needs major changes in its culture, governance and leadership. But evidence from the small schools consultation won’t convince anyone that we have any new openness or willingness to look at alternative viewpoints.
There is a way of forcing change on the council from the outside, however.
Other communities in East Cheshire and Sheffield, for example, have put together petitions to their councils which have successfully forced change on out-of-touch bodies.
The Localism Act of 2011 allows residents to petition the council for change. There are high barriers but the prize is a local authority which responds to public input, by having a committee system not a “strong man” cabinet one. To get there, the county could just vote in a committee system itself, but, on current evidence, we will probably have to have a grassroots petition to bring in the change via a referendum.
However it comes about, the end goal is proper scrutiny and far more open decision-taking, with electors being properly heard.
To achieve a referendum, I just need 33,701** people to agree with me that the present set-up needs challenging!
If you are interested in supporting greater local democracy, please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org, 07789 843556 or visit: mywestsussex.org.uk to bring listening democracy to West Sussex.
** The verification number is published by the county council every year.