Cllr Patricia O’Brien, Conservative Portfolio Holder for Children, Schools and Young People in Suffolk County Council responds to Nick Seaton’s criticisms
Picture the scene: a county council in East Anglia, run, for 12 years, by the Lib Dems and Labour; council tax increases averaging 12% a year; lax financial management; a hugely-expensive adult care service; heavy land-fill taxes fast approaching with no plan to deal with them; serious lack of educational aspiration in many areas remaining unchallenged; and an antiquated, three-tier school system, failing a generation of children.
Then, 2005, the Conservatives win control. What happens next?
1. A radical restructuring of the council – £60 million efficiency savings in three years
2. Low council tax increases – this year’s was joint lowest in the region
3. A revolution in adult care, improving the quality of the service while saving millions of pounds by driving out inefficiency.
4. A new waste facility which will burn residual waste to create energy now given the go-ahead, while ambitious targets for recycling have been set.
5. A university campus in Ipswich, with others planned for Waveney and Bury, to drive up educational aspirations.
6. A radical schools shake-up that will see a move to an improved two tier education system across the county.
This is Suffolk County Council, after three years of Conservative
administration: the most efficient county council in the country, with
strong financial management and low council tax increases; improved
adult care, and the planned transformation of the county’s education
Nick Seaton, in his blog of 19th December, talked about our School
Organisation Review, querying where our Conservative principles are,
and where our backbones are.
Well, which of the above achievements is not Conservative? Which did not take backbone?
We have driven through reform after reform, driving up standards,
driving out inefficiency and delivering radical infrastructure changes
that will leave Suffolk strongly placed for years to come.
Mr Seaton, while agreeing in principle with two-tier education, refers
to our proposals for closing Clare Middle School. At present, Clare
pupils aged 13 upwards go to schools in Haverhill and Sudbury. The
closure of the middle school will mean that children from the primary
school in Clare would now follow suit at the age of 11. There is
strong support for this in Haverhill and beyond, as well as with some
local Conservative MPs and Conservative-run Essex County Council.
However, many Clare parents are opposed to this and, forming a group –
‘CLARE’ – have proposed a new secondary school for Clare.
We have met at length with CLARE and have heard their very persuasive
case. But we cannot, and they cannot, overcome two insuperable
Firstly, there are not the numbers to sustain it as a viable concern – we
believe passionately in rural schools, but it would be folly to set up
new schools which can be seen, from the outset, to be unviable.
Secondly, it would cost £17.6 million to build. We do not have this money,
and other schools would certainly object if we tried to take it out of
their building budgets. Unlike the Labour government, we believe in
living within our means.
This decision has nothing to do with socialist dogma, nor believing in
giant monolithic education structures. It is based on solid
Conservative principles: improving educational standards, delivering
value for money and common sense.
I understand that many are disappointed. I appreciate that these
changes are difficult for many people. But that is not a reason to sit
on our hands while an antiquated structure fails another generation of
David Cameron talked of local councillors being in the vanguard of
Conservative thinking, showing how Conservative policies can make a
That is exactly what we are doing.
He also said that he doesn’t care about being unpopular, if he is doing the right thing.
What is going on in Suffolk is a Conservative success story. In 30
months we have laid secure foundations for the next 30 years. I am
proud to be playing a part in this, and long may it continue.