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This week saw one of Lambeth’s best attended public meetings of recent years, focused on one of the biggest threats facing the borough: huge planned government cuts to local school budgets.

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Organised by the parent-led Fair Funding For All Schools in Lambeth campaign, the gathering at Sunnyhill Primary School on Wednesday drew over 250 people. This grassroots group, part of a national network, has grown rapidly in just a few weeks in response to planned government changes to the funding formula that decides how much money each school in England receives. This may sound initially like a very technical and very dull process, but it has enormous consequences as the formula ultimately decides how many staff each school has, what support it can offer to disadvantaged children and the number of pupils in each classroom.

This is why the government changes are so alarming. As Cllr Claire Holland wrote last week, the tinkering with this formula could rob Lambeth of up to £24 million and inflict steep cuts on all our local schools.  In my ward in Vassall near Brixton, an area with high levels of poverty and deprivation, these cuts will see three local schools – Reay, Christchurch and St John Divine – lose a projected £300,000 from their combined budgets which equates to the cost of employing 11 teachers.  Whichever way you look at this, it’s devastating as it means almost certainly fewer staff, bigger class sizes, less upkeep of the buildings and fewer resources in the schools. And what is especially galling is that this comes after two decades of steady improvement over the past decade under Labour councils which has taken us from being one of the worst educational authorities in the country to one of the best.

At the meeting on Wednesday, the concern of parents and teachers was clear in the passion of the speakers. Many feared that arts courses would be cut back to nothing, others pointed out that recent tightening of spending had already put pressure on budgets – we heard from teachers that some schools were already asking parents to get their children to bring paper to school. How can that be something that a leading Western economy can be happy with?

There is a clear solution to this problem. The government has the money to reverse the impact of these cuts as they have announced plans to spend over £300 million on expanding grammar schools (which all the evidence shows provide worst outcomes for poorer students). This money could be transferred to existing schools to even out funding across the country: it wouldn’t require taxes to rise or other services to suffer, Ministers could just drop their unnecessary obsession with grammar schools and put all children first.  Instead, they are punishing our schools for being successful.

There is sadly little sign that the Tories are listening. None of their Lambeth councillors bothered to attend the meeting and local Tories have actually supported these cuts. In contrast, dozens of Labour councillors were at the meeting, which also heard from Lambeth Labour leader Lib Peck and local MP Helen Hayes, as well as receiving a message of support from Streatham MP Chuka Umunna. As all the Labour representatives at the meeting said, we are fighting these cuts: we are putting pressure on ministers, we are raising awareness through leaflets and door knocking, and we have a petition that has already ratcheted up more than 850 signatures (please sigh here!).

I strongly believe that this government can be persuaded to change its mind. Last year a campaign by councils like Lambeth forced the scrapping of plans for the forced academisation of schools. Given the passion I saw in Sunnyhill this week, I have no doubt that if parents, teachers and councillors work together we can end this serious threat that is putting the future of local children at risk.

 

Paul Gadsby

Councillor for Vassall ward

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This week saw one of Lambeth’s best attended public meetings of recent years, focused on one of the biggest threats facing the borough: huge planned government cuts to local school...

Councillor Claire Holland, Lambeth Deputy Cabinet Member for Schools, blogs on proposed Tory cuts to schools and the upcoming public meeting against them.

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Councillor Claire Holland, Lambeth Deputy Cabinet Member for Schools, blogs on proposed Tory cuts to schools and the upcoming public meeting against them. Read more

Thank you Madam Mayor

Let me begin by saying I am Happy to be speaking in support of our budget this evening. 

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Approval by Lambeth’s planning committee of plans for the future of Carnegie Library is a major step towards the reopening of the building by the end of this year. 

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In the face of huge government cuts to financial support for councils since 2010 (with Lambeth having made savings of £183m and now needing to find a further £55m in savings over the next 3 years), it won’t be possible to get the library open again unless an alternative way of funding the service, the building and the range of activities that take place in it can be found. The plans now agreed by the council unlocks that funding by approving new uses alongside a high-quality library. And for the very first time planning guarantees have been placed on the use of the ground floor as a library. 

Over the 30 years that I’ve lived in Herne Hill, local people have time and again proved themselves a creative and resourceful partner for the council, frequently leading Lambeth towards solutions the council could not have achieved on its own.  In the late 1990s when it was clear the council could no longer fund it, the closed and decaying Brockwell Lido was transformed into the thriving hub it is today by bringing in a not for profit leisure partner to put a gym and other activities alongside the pool. 

The complex project to create a new square in front of the station was led by the community using investment and support from TfL and Lambeth. The phenomenal success of the crowdfunding project to keep the Ruskin Park paddling pool open last summer is only the most recent example. Now Herne Hill’s brilliant 198 Gallery – no longer in receipt of council funding – is redeveloping, doubling its floorspace to add creative business startups and new arts based enterprise uses alongside its core educational and artistic functions. This will give it the income to train young people for creative and digital work in the south London economy.

In addition to being outstanding examples of the ingenuity of Herne Hill people and businesses all these projects which have made our neighbourhood a hugely better place to live have one crucial thing in common. That is a recognition that sometimes things have to change to survive; that in difficult times new solutions are often needed. This is often controversial. Back in 2008 there was major opposition to the creation of Station Square where we now have our much-valued market. Those with even longer memories might recall the sense of outrage felt that the council could no longer subsidise Brockwell Lido.

The transfer of the Carnegie building to a community run organisation is the next big challenge that Herne Hill people will need to meet showing the same mix of expertise, energy and co-operative values. The council will retain the freehold and the building’s leasehold will be taken over by one of two bidding organisations. The gym in the previously largely derelict basement will be run - as with Brockwell Lido - by a not for profit provider (the council’s leisure partner GLL). This will cover the cost of hosting the library and providing staff on the ground floor. Open double the previous hours and offering a similar number of books, DVDs, computers and plenty of study space there will be librarians present for part of every week day. All the previous activities including those for children, community groups and much more will run again.  There will be an opportunity to get a café open in the building to attract new visitors and complement the library. Space for arts and performance will also be possible as well as a chance to create dedicated facilities for small business, training and enterprise uses.

The transfer will crucially open up the exciting prospect of major investment from sources not currently available to the council. A successful Heritage Lottery Fund bid - which Lambeth as key partner will need to match fund – could give the building the major refurbishment it sorely needs including a new roof and preservation of the building’s crucial heritage features. The council for its part needs to hugely improve communication and engagement with local people. 

For the past 100 years the Carnegie has been the centre of our community. But it has had to exist for many years on ever diminishing public subsidy which has now run out as the council struggles to keep services for children, disabled  and older people afloat. Some other councils have responded to similar circumstances by closing libraries or turning them into volunteer run facilities. This is an approach that the Labour Party in Lambeth strongly rejects. In Herne Hill we have shown we can do much better.  

By forming yet another creative partnership between the community and the council we can once more call upon the energy and imagination of Herne Hill’s people to prepare the Carnegie to be a flagship library and community hub for the next 100 years.

Cllr Jim Dickson, Labour Councillor for Herne Hill

Energy and imagination of Herne Hill community can help secure Carnegie's future for the next 100 years.

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