Budget must give help for schools

A NORTH Northumberland councillor has urged that children’s services receives enough funds to support schools as the budget consultation is launched.

Coun Robert Arckless, who represents Amble and is also the policy board member for children’s services at Northumberland County Council, told Monday night’s north area committee meeting that he wants to make sure schools in the county are better supported in light of the recent Ofsted inspection results.

Four schools in Northumberland, including Lindisfarne Middle School, in Alnwick, and St Cuthbert’s RC First School, in Amble, require special measures and the local authority was criticised.

The comments came after a presentation by Steve Mason, corporate director of finance, which said that the authority will have to slash £130million off its budget over the next four years.

For 2014/15 it is looking at a reduction of £33.7million including cuts of £14.2million to adult services and housing, £4.9million to children’s services and £7.5million to local services among other reductions.

The medium term financial plan for the council will see higher savings in 2015/16 of £35.8million followed by £31.4million in 2016/17 and £32.8million in 2017/18.

At Monday’s meeting, Coun Arckless said: “This is probably one of the toughest budgets in 20 years.

“In the area of children’s services I am sure that colleagues will appreciate that the last couple of months will have a significant effect on how we move things forward.

“One of the issues that has been very clearly highlighted is the need for more support for schools.

“We are still thinking on the detail of how we do that but I hope we will be able to deliver more support.

“I am sure every other policy board member will have the same to say about their services.

“But particularly in children’s services, there are challenges that need to be addressed. There needs to be a short-term strategy to deal with the Ofsted issue.”

Coun Dougie Watkin added that a third of the budget cuts from local services is directly related to the free car parking initiative.

The county council’s policy board approved the budget recommendations on Tuesday and they will now go out for consultation.

However, Northumberland’s Liberal Democrats have heavily criticised the county council’s Labour administration for plans to scrap free travel to access education for post-16 students.

Labour proposes to charge 16 to 18-year-olds £450 per year for travel to school or college. Liberal Democrats in Northumberland have warned of the damaging effect this would have on the prospects of the county’s young people, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Julie Pörksen described it as ‘outrageous’.