02:00PM, Thursday 27 April 2017
Concerned parents have accused the council of abusing the rules of purdah to avoid making a decision about the expansion of Lowbrook Academy.
Last week the Advertiser reported the school in The Fairway, Cox Green had refused the offer of a loan of £225,000 from the Royal Borough, and would only be offering 30 places, not 60, at the September intake.
The loan was offered due to a shortfall in funding for an expansion project which would see the school become two-form entry.
Purdah is the pre-election period and guidelines set out in the Local Government Act 1986 which prevent central and local government from making announcements about any new or controversial government initiatives, launching consultations and undertaking anything which could be perceived to affect support for a party or candidate.
Parents took to social media to urge council leader Cllr Simon Dudley (Con, Riverside) to agree the extra funding, instead of loaning it to the school.
Cllr Dudley and Cllr Ross McWilliams (Con, Cox Green) told parents the purdah period, which began on Saturday, meant no decision would be made until after the General Election.
Amy Monks tweeted: “Purdah being misused by RBWM for their own benefit already? Shocker what next.”
Tracey Baker tweeted: “Bit sneaky, don’t you think. The agreement was made a year ago. Surely they can honour that.”
Cox Green parish councillor Craig Monks emailed the council and Prime Minister, challenging the use of purdah, writing: “I feel I have an ethical call to directly challenge your improper use of purdah rules in an attempt to silence the calls being made by angry parents of school children affected by your very late change in position to fund the much-needed development of Lowbrook Academy.”
"Let's put this political mess to bed and do business. Honour your well documents support for this development and let's move on."
Cllr Dudley said a decision about the school would be made by the Conservative Group through a ‘free vote in private’ after the General Election.
He said although purdah does allow council business to continue as normal, this was not 'business as usual' as the school expansion budget required a cabinet or full council decision for over £500k.
He said: “There were 144 spare primary places in RBWM excluding any Lowbrook expansion, which is 7.4% of required places.
“The system has a lot of excess capacity for 2017.”
When asked for a specific reason why Lowbrook was covered under purdah rules, a spokesman from the Royal Borough said: "As we have confirmed, this will be dealt with after the election."
When asked again if this could be elaborated, a spokesman directed the Advertiser to a copy of the purdah guidance issued by the Local Governement Association and quoted the document.
He said: "The basic principle for civil servants is not to undertake any activity that could call into question their political impartiality or that could give rise to criticism that public resources are being used for party political purposes. This principle applies to all staff working in departments.”
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