RBWM Conservatives must have a 'policy vote' on Lowbrook, not a 'free vote'.
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Lowbrook Academy was asked by RBWM to expand in 2016, in line with the Conservative Group Manifesto 2015 ("Continue to invest money in school expansion, focused on the best schools"). The school is already over subscribed. For the last 4 years its taken 30 extra children into the Reception year because there is such a shortage of school places in the local area. As a result, some students now have to be transported to a different site each day as there are currently not enough classrooms on the school grounds. The hall is not big enough to fit the bulging population of the school and some facilities are no longer fit for purpose.
So expansion plans were drawn up and agreed, and building work began. All parties, including the Theresa May MP, were very satisfied that the school had agreed to expand and the future looked bright at Lowbrook.
Then in March 2017 there was a sudden withdrawal of funds by RBWM. The Council cited a dispute with the size of the new hall as a reason for the U-turn, even though it had already been agreed at various stages of planning. The amount in dispute ended up being approx £250k.
The withdrawal of funding means Lowbrook Academy are now unable to continue with the expansion, meaning that they can't offer the extra 120 places that the community urgently needs. The leader of RBWM Council, Simon Dudley, has decided that the decision as to whether to reinstate the funding will be voted at a Full Council Meeting.
There are 53 Conservative Councillors, 3 independents and 1 Lib Dem on the Council. The 53 Conservatives have their own group called the RBWM Conservative Group. They have separate meetings, make decisions together and then take them to Full Council meetings as a team. If the decision they're voting on is related to any of their own policies (See their latest manifesto at http://www.rbwmconservatives.com/ ) they will hold a 'policy vote' and it will be passed as a matter of course. If the decision is not related to any of their own policies, they hold a 'free vote' where members are allowed to vote based on individual opinion.
On the 19th June 2017 the RBWM Conservative Group will vote on whether to support the reinstatement of Lowbrook's withdrawn funds. The leader of the Group, Simon Dudley, has decided to make it a 'free vote', allowing all the Conservative Group members to vote by individual choice. However, school expansion is one of the RBWM Conservative Group's policies, as referred to in their manifesto. It's such a priority that the Council had committed a total of £32m for school expansion projects, including Lowbrook's.
So I say the vote on 19th June should be a policy vote. Not a free vote. School expansion is an existing policy. A policy vote would secure support for the school at the next Full Council meeting and the much-needed funding would therefore be reinstated.
If Simon Dudley holds a free vote instead of a policy vote, I fear this sets a dangerous precedent for other schools and puts all future expansion projects in jeopardy. So furthermore, I also say that all future school expansion decisions should be policy votes
and not free votes.
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