London Councils is a very well funded lobbying group. Each of the 32 London boroughs stumps up £161,958 of Council Taxpayers’ money, per year, in subscriptions. That’s topped up with another £1 million of our money courtesy of the European Social Fund.
There was an outrageous example recently of this Labour controlled group using their resources for partisan purposes. They produced some invented figures about how schools in various London boroughs would lose money under the Government’s proposed national funding formula. The figures were invented as the funding formula has not yet been published. A new formula is proposed due to the valid concern that it is unfair for a school to receive far less funding per pupil, in one area, than in another. Some relatively well-funded London boroughs are expecting to lose out as a result of this review, with many rural authorities benefiting.
But then let’s also consider whether the “London weighting” which boosts teacher’s pay by £2,000 or £3,000 a year (depending on outer or inner London boroughs) is up to date? A review of fairer funding should include whether the relative cost of living – principally housing costs – has risen.
At the moment we don’t know what will be proposed. So why the dishonesty from London Councils in coming up with these premature figures? The timing might just have something to do with the election of Mayor of London on Thursday May 5th. London Councils are using Council Taxpayers’ money to boost the campaign of Sadiq Khan – who was naturally available with a quote to endorse the figures which he said would “spell catastrophe”.
Why does each Conservative council in London go along with this? Why do they hand over money from their residents for Khan’s electioneering? Something to remember next time you come across a Tory borough council leader in London complaining about the climate of financial rigour in their town hall. Once you have finished laughing, ask how they justify the £161,958 bung to London Councils.
Another question for councils across the country is whether they should be devoting resources to lobbying the Government even if it is done in an honest and non-partisan basis. After all, charities are being prohibited from using taxpayer’s money for that purpose.
If councils want to do something practical to ensure fair funding for their schools they could consider this report by a group of MPs and bishops about hunger.
It says under: Registration for free school meals
“The problems stemming from the under registration of children who are eligible for free school meals are twofold: first, each of these poor children risks going without a decent meal each day; second, their school misses out on up to £1,320 each year in Pupil Premium funding to support their education.
“Fortunately, we have encountered and encouraged a small but growing number of Local Authorities who are using their Housing Benefit records to identify such families whose children are eligible, but not registered to receive free school meals. Once identified, each family is informed by the Local Authority that their child has automatically been signed up to receive free school meals, with no need to fill in any forms unless they wish to opt out of entitlement.
“This innovative work delivers a win-win situation, at no extra cost to Local Authorities, in that children need not suffer hunger and their schools receive vital additional funding towards their education.”
Councils that have already implemented automatic registration for free school meals include Greenwich, Walsall and Hartlepool. But they are a small minority. My own council, Hammersmith and Fulham, has devoted great energy to scaremongering over the national fairer funding formula. But when I challenged my Council to implement automatic registration for free school meals they took two months to reply and then came up with a weak and non-committal reference to “reviewing” the “link between information we currently hold and how we can use it”. I hope they get on with it, but it sounds as though there will be dithering. Even these modest changes do require political will to overcome administrative inertia.
Perhaps another way to boost school funding would be to reallocate the funds wasted on London Councils?