Saturday, 4 September 2010

Trouble at mill?

Sandwell Conservative defects over schools cuts

A Conservative councillor has defected to Labour over cuts to the government's schools building programme.

Elaine Costigan, of Sandwell Council, said the community had been treated with "utter contempt" and she was "ashamed to be a Conservative".

Nine schools in Sandwell were told they would receive refurbishment money, only to be informed a day later the projects were being scrapped.

The government said it would target work on the schools with most need.

Ms Costigan, who is deputy leader of the Conservative group at the council, said: "This community has been treated with utter contempt by the government over the slashing of the school building programme and when Michael Gove backed out of his promise to come and apologise to the parents, pupils and staff he had so badly let down, I felt ashamed to be a Conservative."

'Huge anger'

Ray Nock, leader of the Conservatives on the West Midlands council, said he was "totally shocked" that Ms Costigan had "jumped ship".

"Only weeks ago Councillor Costigan was openly attacking local Labour Party policies," he said.

Shadow Education Secretary Ed Balls said he had spoken with Ms Costigan and was "delighted" by her switch.

He told BBC News: "The cancellation of the new school buildings in Sandwell is a huge blow to the aspirations of children there as well as to jobs in the local area.

"It's doubly worse because Michael Gove said it's going to go ahead in Sandwell then he had to say he'd made a mistake.

"There's huge anger among parents, among teachers and head teachers, and now that has spread to the Conservative group in Sandwell as well."

Wrong list

In July, Mr Gove announced the cancellation of Labour's Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme, a £45bn redevelopment scheme which aimed to rebuild all of England's schools by 2023.

The announcement was criticised as being badly handled, with repeated errors on published lists of projects affected. Mr Gove later apologised in the House of Commons.

The Sandwell schools were told they had been put on the wrong list and would not get their repairs after all.

A government spokesman said: "The Labour government left a dire economic mess that we have had to clear up. BSF was inefficient and overblown and had to go.

"We are committed to school building in the future but unlike BSF it will be targeted at schools in most disrepair and areas with the greatest need for new school places.

"The secretary of state and the department recently met with councillors, parents and children from Sandwell to discuss and address the area's needs."

Reproduced with acknowledgements to BBC News.

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