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From The Socialist newspaper, 22 October 2008

Kirklees: The battle to save our schools heats up

After last week's humiliating vote at the Kirklees council meeting, where the ruling Tory cabinet was defeated by a two-to-one margin over its Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, a war of words has now broken out between the three main parties.

Mike Forster

Labour and Lib Dem councillors are threatening a vote of no confidence in the cabinet if they do not withdraw their proposals. This would, in effect, bring down the minority Tory administration, which has so far been able to rule with the active support of the Lib Dems, a de facto coalition.

The leader of the Tory group has said they will not be blackmailed and they still intend to press ahead with BSF, whatever the consequences. Behind the sabre rattling, the Lib Dems and Tories will be trying to cobble together some kind of compromise to avoid the hung council becoming politically paralysed.

Council officials are worried that the promised 400 million sweetener from the government will be lost if there is any further delay.

This latest political crisis has resulted from the huge swell of public anger at the council's plans for school closures and an academy. Action groups will come together in a show of strength on 25 October, with a march through Ravensthorpe and Mirfield where one local high school is earmarked for closure.

Local Tory councillors in the area have now switched their public position to supporting the campaign, even though their party is proposing the closure programme! Perhaps they have one eye on the results of this year's council elections in Barrow in Furness, where anti-academy candidates unseated councillors who were in favour of privatising education.

At some of the meetings in Kirklees, parents and members of the community have directly called for action-group candidates to stand if these proposals are pushed through. Save Our NHS councillor and Socialist Party member Jackie Grunsell has spoken at one of the meetings and is giving her help and support.

Meanwhile the council's rolling programme of public consultation meetings continue in the schools affected. Staff are now becoming more bold and assertive in the meetings. Council officials sound increasingly uneasy.

Questions being frequently asked are: How can the council be sure the money is still available from the government, given the present financial uncertainty? And exactly which private backers have the capital to invest in new schools now? The answers sound increasingly unconvincing.

Although the public consultation ends by mid November, this will not end the campaign.

Public anger is not dying down. Further public meetings are planned and there will need to be more demos throughout the Dewsbury and Batley area.

When the plan was first announced, the council leader claimed there was political consensus for one of the boldest education initiatives ever taken by the council. The consensus has broken down under huge pressure and it is vital that the pressure for maintaining properly funded public education is sustained.

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In The Socialist 22 October 2008:


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