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So, after a tortuous four years in which Labour grabbed every opportunity to throw a spanner in the works, the UCL Academy is set to go ahead (together with Swiss Cottage Special School and refurbishment at South Camden Community School).
As the Camden New Journal highlights today in a pretty fair article, this is another manifesto promised ticked off for the local Liberal Democrats, who promised a new secondary school with a public sector sponsor if an academy was the only way of getting one. The school will provide much needed new places in the North and South of the borough, and give all Camden pupils a great link with one of the world’s top universities.
It’s right to remember, though, those Camden schools who won’t be getting the extra cash they were hoping for and, though we don’t often delve into national politics on this blog, I think it’s important to set a few things straight on the end of the Building Schools for the Future programme.
Firstly, we all agree that schools all over the country, including Camden, are in urgent need of renovation. After thirteen years of Labour government there remains a real shortage of school places in our borough, and many school buildings are simply not up to scratch.
However, it is incumbent on politicians to offer solutions as well as to identify problems. Last year, the former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, announced that Labour would cut all capital spending by 50%, without saying where those cuts would fall. Despite this, Labour politicians continued to travel around the country posing for their local newspapers with large cheques supposedly for new school buildings. There is no way that Labour cannot have known that, by promising more money than they could afford, in the face of cuts they had already announced, they were deliberately and irresponsibly raising schools’ hopes and leaving a future government to break the bad news.
Meanwhile, the money that was allocated to Building Schools for the Future has been spent in a grossly wasteful way. Schools that wanted to receive funding for building work have had to jump through ridiculous bureaucratic hoops (four years worth, here in Camden); £1.35 million has been paid out in consultancy fees to a single individual; and £10million was shelled out on procurement processes before a single brick was laid. Those schools who achieved good results were penalised for their success and put to the back of the queue, whatever the state of their buildings. I cannot believe there is not a more fair and effective way of helping schools with their refurbishment.
This is why the new coalition government is reviewing the whole system of rebuilding schools. Fortunately, the end of the bureaucratic Building Schools for the Future programme does not mean that schools in Camden will not be refurbished under the new scheme, and we all need to work together to make their case when more details are announced.
And, whatever the disappointment elsewhere, we shouldn’t take away from the fact that the new UCL Academy will transform educational provision in the borough and help thousands of young people in Camden in doing so.
Two projects given planning permission last night show how decisions taken by the Liberal Democrats are set to benefit young people in Camden for many years to come.
Firstly, the Talacre Boxing Club is set to be fully rebuilt, with much needed new housing above. This is something that Jill Fraser has pushed on for years, and was steered through by my colleague Ralph Scott when Liberal Democrats led the Council. Together with Kentish Town Baths, another achievement that we can be proud of, and the ongoing success of the Talacre Sports Centre, the new boxing club will provide an answer to the much repeated moan “there isn’t anything to do around here”. There is, and there will soon be even more.
Also, the UCL Academy, a partnership between Camden Council and a first class local university, was granted planning permission and is now just waiting for government money to be approved. The Academy was a key manifesto commitment for the Liberal Democrats in 2006 and, although slowed down by national Labour’s painful bureaucratic hoops and local Labour’s delaying tatics and sabotage attempts, it now looks well on the way to becoming a reality.
Good news for all those who care about Camden’s young people, both at school and out of school.
UPDATE: The government has now confirmed that building projects at the UCL Academy, Swiss Cottage Special School and South Camden Community School will go ahead. Read what Camden Lib Dem Leader Keith Moffitt has to say here.
The spectacular revamp of Kentish Town Baths was unveiled to the public today.
Back in 2006 the Liberal Democrats pledged to rescue the fabulous building, and we did: on time and on budget. I have been priveldged enough to have several sneak previews as the building work progressed, and also kept a close eye on the project as Chair of Camden’s Culture Committee. It’s been a real model of how councils should manage large projects, with the Viictorian heriatage of the site respected and the baths’ user group consulted every step of the way.