The Fair Funding group has called on residents to continue to hold councillors to account as its campaign comes to an end.
The group released a statement on Sunday, thanking residents who supported it and urging them to remember the issue when voting in future.
Fair Funding was set up last summer as a result of the Royal Borough’s decision to award £480,000 of developer funding to Holyport College in April 2015.
This decision outraged residents and a petition calling on the council to revoke it received more than 1,600 signatures.
In a statement the group said: “It is now a full year since the RBWM council meeting that led to the creation of the FairFunding campaign.
“We have pursued several avenues to try to reclaim the £480,000 of developer funding, and received tremendous support from local residents, but it is with regret that we do not believe that there is anything further that can be done on this particular issue.”
The group contacted the Education Funding Agency and complained to the Local Government Ombudsman. The Ombudsman said it could only investigate if the group could prove significant personal injustice.
The group’s statement continued: “The Fair Funding campaign has never been about seeking advantage for our own children or schools we are associated with, but to seek fair funding for all schools in the borough, whether that be to our benefit or even our detriment.
It added: “We ask all local residents, regardless of political affiliation, to remember this case when voting in future local elections, to elect a council that will deliver on openness and transparency instead of paying lip service, and to continue to hold their councillors to account.”
The statement in full:
On 6th March 2015, when discussing the possibility of expansion of Holyport College, Cllr Dudley said, “There’s a lot of work to be done financially, with planning and design, but it’s certainly something we are looking at.” By 13th March 2015, the college had a fully costed plan, which was a “better fit” than any other plan from a Maidenhead school.
It is now a full year since the RBWM Council meeting that led to the creation of the Fair Funding campaign. We have pursued several avenues to try to reclaim £480K of developer funding, and received tremendous support from local residents, but it is with regret that we do not believe that there is anything further that can be done on this particular issue.
First of all, we raised code of conduct complaints. We were disappointed that the investigating solicitor did not make a wider investigation of the serious allegations made, or interview more than one witness on behalf of the council. Given the narrow focus of this investigation, we will be monitoring developing reports of alleged bullying with interest.
We were also disappointed with the solicitor’s comments that he did not consider that a fair-minded and informed observer would conclude that there was a real possibility of bias by Cllr Dudley — over 1600 local residents clearly did feel exactly that! We also fail to see how the solicitor could conclude that he saw no evidence of predetermination when Cllr Dudley had tweeted on 31 March 2015 that Holyport College was to award 24 more places on 1 April 2015. That was 8 days before Maidenhead Development Control Panel agreed (in principle) the planning permission, including the payment of £480k of S106 money to the College. Money that the College insisted was critical for them to be able to award the extra places. Would a fair-minded and informed observer believe that Cllr Dudley attended that meeting of the Development Control Panel without a predetermined view?
The next step was to go to the Local Government Ombudsman. We knew this was a long shot, as very few complaints are successful but nevertheless, we felt we had a very strong case. However, the Ombudsman could only investigate if we could prove significant personal injustice.
The Fair Funding campaign has never been about seeking advantage for our own children or schools we are associated with, but to seek fair funding for all schools in the borough whether that be to our benefit or even our detriment. Therefore, it was impossible to prove significant personal injustice.
Individuals also raised formal complaints using the RBWM complaints procedure. These focused on the lack of process and procedure for allocating funds. After exhausting the RBWM procedure, we referred the matter once more to the Ombudsman but again, we could not prove significant personal injustice and the matter was closed.
Finally, we took the matter up with the Education Funding Agency, which had provided £15million of public funds to Holyport College to provide a school for 500 pupils. The EFA have now advised us that they are satisfied that the initial funding did provide a 500-capacity school. We therefore see no need for the £480k to have been agreed to be paid in advance by RBWM, as Holyport College would not need the extra capacity until 2018. Initial plans for the College were finally submitted on 4 April 2016. Residents must ask themselves whether they have been misled over this matter.
It’s also worth taking time to focus on the positives of this campaign. For example, we were invited to the Children’s Services Scrutiny Group to present views on how to make funding fairer in future and contribute to a new procedure for allocating funds. This case has also allowed residents to engage more actively with the political process and sent a clear message to councillors that if they are unable to effectively scrutinise their own activities, then the public they serve will do it for them. We have also sent out a clear message that it is not acceptable to do deals behind closed doors — one we hope our councillors remember when they elect their new leader.
We would like to thank the 1600+ residents who signed our petition last year, and those RBWM employees who weren’t allowed to but nonetheless, thanked us for what we were doing. We ask all local residents, regardless of political affiliation, to remember this case when voting in future local elections, to elect a council that will deliver on openness and transparency instead of paying lip service, and to continue to hold their councillors to account.
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