Cllr Steve Bell is Leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove Council.

In Brighton & Hove, the ghost of Jeremy Corbyn lingers on, with an unpopular Momentum-run local council being led by Cllr Nancy Platts, a former employee of Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour minority council recently made waves with its decision to strongly advise local schools to disregard Government advice to reopen on June 1st.

By putting significant pressure on headteachers and parents in recent weeks, Labour has ensured that 64 out of 65 maintained schools in Brighton and Hove have followed its advice and remain closed.

In coming to this position, Labour has been listening only to the arguments of its unions; and not scientists, parents, and medical professionals.

Labour’s letters and statements outlining its decision have been vetted by four unions and contain a number of misleading arguments for why schools should stay closed.

Brighton and Hove Conservative Councillors have been exposing some of the myths that have been put forward by Labour and the Unions to justify keeping children at home.

Labour Myth 1:  “Following the science”

Labour has claimed that it is paying attention to the science when advising schools not to reopen. But Cllr Vanessa Brown, the Conservative Education spokesman, questioned the decision-making process leading up to the Council’s announcement that it was halting the process of school re-openings. As a result Labour confirmed that:

  • The Administration did not take further additional scientific advice in making the announcement to parents not to follow government advice.
  • No scientific assessment was made of the mental health implications of keeping children at home for long periods.
  • No scientific assessment was made on the impact on local parents or consideration of the knock on-effect on grandparents that may be in the vulnerable category.

In deviating from the Government’s scientific advice, Labour made itself the arbiter of when schools should return without conducting scientific analysis.

Labour Myth 2: “R-number is too high.”

Labour’s union has said that the R-number was too high in Brighton & Hove to open schools, saying it had advice that it was currently 1.7.

This was challenged by Cllr Samer Bagaeen, the Conservative Health and Wellbeing Spokesman who is also a professor at Kent University. In response, the Council’s Public Health Director, Alistair Hill, put out a statement saying that the Union figure was ‘misleading and potentially dangerous’:

“We have very serious concerns about the website’s information about the R number. Quite simply, the alleged statistics they are using are misleading and potentially dangerous in terms of giving either false reassurance or creating unnecessary concerns.”  

Data for hospital admissions in Brighton and Hove and the capacity for critical care beds back up this position.

Labour Myth 3: Test and trace

Labour and the trade unions in Brighton & Hove have used concerns about a test and trace system as one of its main reasons for advising schools not to open as per the government’s advice, saying that a track and trace system was not ‘properly in place’:

Four unions issued a joint statement saying:

“The government has confirmed it will proceed with opening primary schools to children in nursery, reception, year 1 and year 6 on Monday 1 June even though its own scientists have not modelled the proposal and average numbers of new daily cases are still high – and despite the ‘track and trace’ system not being properly in place.”

Cllr John Allcock, the Chair of Children, Young People and Skills Committee said:

“In particular we are not confident that the test around effective testing and tracing is currently met given the very recent introduction of the government’s Test and Trace programme especially in a city with a high visitor footfall such as ours.”

However at the Daily Briefing on 1 June, the National Coordinator of the UK Coronavirus (COVID-19) Testing Programme, Professor John Newton, said that the test and trace system was indeed up and running with 25,000 contact tracers employed including 7,500 clinicians, with the system working well with significant spare capacity.

Labour is increasing inequality in Brighton and Hove schools

The basis of Labour’s claims for keeping Brighton & Hove schools closed is increasingly looking shaky and misleading.

And while Labour bristles at any mention of the impact of its decisions on inequality, there is no doubt that this gap is widening as a direct result of its actions. With many private schools operating and functioning, it is the children in the 64 out of 65 schools in the state sector that are being denied education. And with the vast majority of schools in neighbouring counties of East Sussex and West Sussex reopening according to the Government’s advice, Labour has put our schoolchildren in Brighton and Hove at a regional disadvantage as well.

Labour needs to urgently advise what plan it has in place to reopen schools as every day it doesn’t have one, inequality will rise. In Brighton & Hove it is the Conservatives that are standing up for education, and a failing Momentum-run council that is increasing inequality.