The Inside the Council column with Councillor Scott Benton

Councillor Scott Benton.
Councillor Scott Benton.

On Monday, February 25, yet another damaging budget for Calderdale was signed off by the Labour and Liberal parties on the council.

I have some sympathy with the Liberals in that they managed to secure some extra funding for children’s mental health in Calderdale within the Budget – something that the Conservative Group wholeheartedly support.

Potholes: The council blames Government for cuts to road repairs.

Potholes: The council blames Government for cuts to road repairs.

However, to achieve this, they sided with Labour in rejecting a Conservative proposal that would offer a better start to some of our young people in care, whilst saving the council money at the same time.

The Conservative proposal would have offered the opportunity to some children currently in care to be homed and schooled by some of the best independent schools in the area.

Ironically this would actually cost far less than the council spend on keeping some of our most vulnerable children in care.

For some children, this could have provided the best education that money can buy, in a safe and secure residential setting where their pastoral and emotional needs could be fully met.

After Labour’s Budget was initially voted down, all three Group Leaders informally agreed to support this proposal on a cross-party basis. However, internal divisions in the Labour Party later became clear as they voted against the proposal.

Whatever your opinion on independent or fee paying schools, one thing is beyond dispute: when it comes to results they deliver tremendous learning outcomes for their students.

Another sad truth is that historically children have always been better off and less at risk at home than in care. That is why Councils have always used care as a last resort and seek every opportunity to keep children with their families.

When these facts are so self-evidently true, what possible reason could there be to vote against this scheme? The proposal had been signed off by the chief finance officer of the council, an independent person, to say that it was viable and that the scheme had operated successfully elsewhere. Eton and Rugby are among those schools who have signed up to similar schemes.

So what motivated Labour, a party that professes to help the most vulnerable, the most deprived, and those with the worst start in life, to vote against a proposal to give an opportunity (which is usually only afforded to the most well off) to the poorest and most neglected children of the borough?

The answer is clear: ideology. Politically, Labour could not bring themselves to support a policy that involves independent schools because of the ‘privilege’ that these schools represent, even if in this instance, the privilege is being given to those who have endured one of the least privileged starts in life.

Predictably they blame central Government for cuts to street cleaning and litter collection, to roads and pothole repairs, while at the same time failing to make reductions to non-essential expenditure.

All of this means that the Labour administration are cutting frontline services and putting up your Council Tax by over 4%. Once again, you will be paying more and getting less from the council.