In Nottingham, we have recently started a campaign to protest against Michael Gove’s decision to cancel Labour’s Building Schools for the Future. His decision came as no surprise, but that will be of little comfort to the schools and learning centres that have fallen on the wrong side of the line.
The cancellation of BSF affects two of our schools; Top Valley School & Engineering College in the north of Nottingham and The Trinity School in the west. These two schools are special cases. They were to receive part of the £33 million funding specifically promised as an agreed fifth wave of BSF investment in Nottingham. But there are even more schools or learning centres here have had their building projects either scrapped entirely or dramatically reduced. For teachers, parents, and children of all of these schools this is clearly a devastating blow.
There are many arguments about why the cancellation of BSF is wrong. It was a hugely ambitious project, but also a necessary one. The schools identified for replacement under the BSF program still need to be rebuilt. We need an education system that is fit for the twenty first century. Our children deserve to be educated in modern, clean, safe buildings. Moreover, such projects are perhaps even more imperative in a recession. These schools would not have built themselves. The cancellation of these projects will have a consequent and detrimental effect on the local economy and community in these areas of Nottingham.
Additionally, the decision has the potential to create a legal argument for judicial review on the basis that the schools, companies who were due to undertake the work, or indeed the local authority itself had a legitimate expectation that the funding would be provided. The Nottingham City Council has stated that it is actively considering legal action.
It is particularly galling that Mr Gove has taken the axe to Labour’s school building program in favour of new regime of school management that is rapidly unravelling. The proposal for “free schools” and the stated desire to turn as many schools as possible into academies are slowly being revealed as unworkable, unpopular and deeply damaging.
In Nottingham, we have taken the view that we cannot stand by whilst the ConDem Government attempts to dismantle Labour’s achievements on public sector reform. It is imperative that we, as a local Labour movement, do all we can to oppose this decision as hard as we can. We owe it to the communities we represent to fight tooth and nail to prevent this funding, promised to these schools in difficult areas of the city, being siphoned off to help parents in leafy suburbs set up their own “free schools”.
At a national level, Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker are currently doing a tremendous job in holding the Government to account over education. It is vital that at a local level we do the same. It is also vital that this is repeated up and down the country. In every city where this decision is being felt, the Labour Party should be there, ready to challenge and protest against the cuts, and stand up for people affected by them.
In doing so, we should not be distracted by the lazy (and incorrect) argument that these cuts were inevitable under any government, and that Labour would have cut just as deeply. Labour would not have cancelled BSF; it would have built these schools.
We have been out knocking door to door getting signatures on our petition, and already have over 2,000 signatures. We hope that by doing this, we will demonstrate public anger in Nottingham over this issue and show people that Labour will not stand by whilst damaging decisions like the cancellation of BSF are taken by the ConDem Government.
We must stand up for our communities over this issue and hold the Government to account for this disastrous decision.
Nick McDonald is a lawyer and Labour activist campaigning for Save Nottingham’s Schools Rebuilding Scheme.