Is the Lyndale School call in going to the wrong Wirral Council committee?
Labour’s Cllr Tony Smith (Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services) explaining at a Wirral Council Cabinet meeting why he thinks the Cabinet should agree to consultation on closure of Lyndale School
The start of this story goes all the way back to my teenage years when a Labour government was elected in 1997 having used the slogan “education, education, education” during their election campaign. A few years after being elected, Labour’s Estelle Morris, a Minister in the Department for Education and Employment brought in legislation called The Education (Parent Governor Representatives) Regulations 1999. As explained in the explanatory notes, “These Regulations make provision for representatives of parent governors at maintained schools to be included in the education committees of local education authorities” and “Regulation 10 sets out the voting rights of a parent governor representative. Such a person may vote, broadly, on any matter related to the local education authority’s schools and pupils, save that he may not vote on the determination of the authority’s budget.”
Two years after these regulations became law, there was a judicial review case involving them Transport and General Workers Union and Hilary Hollington v Wallsall Metropolitan Borough Council  EWHC Admin 452. Wallsall Metropolitan Borough Council’s Education and Community Services Committee had voted eleven to nine to outsource the school meals service to P Martin & Sons (Trefonen) Limited which had previously been provided by the Council’s Direct Services Labour Organisation. The parent governor representatives (numbering three) had been told at the meeting that they couldn’t vote on the catering contract decision, but had wanted to vote against contracting the service out. If the parent governor representatives had been allowed to vote the result would’ve been different.
The result of this case was that the High Court Judge in the case quashed the decision of the committee and granted a declaration that the contract between Wallsall Metropolitan Borough Council and P Martin & Sons (Trefonen) Limited was void. Wallsall Metropolitan Borough Council (as the losing party) had to pay the other sides’ legal costs of £15,649.83 and permission to appeal was denied.
Wirral Council is a local education authority and its Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee has the legal minimum of two parent governor representatives (with voting rights on education matters). The Church of England diocese representative is currently vacant but it also has one Roman Catholic representative with voting rights.
When the decision to consult on closing Lyndale School was called in (there are previous blog posts on the original Cabinet decision and some reasons why it should be called in) under the new constitution agreed by Wirral Council last year, the call in (at least at the point of writing) is down to be reviewed at a meeting of the Coordinating Committee on the 5th February.
The Coordinating Committee (comprising 15 councillors) has a split of 9 Labour councillors, 5 Conservative councillors and 1 Lib Dem. The Labour Chair also has a casting vote in the event of a tied vote.
The Families and Wellbeing Committee (comprising 15 councillors plus co-optees) has a split of 9 Labour councillors, 5 Conservative councillors and 1 Lib Dem. There are also two parent governor representatives (Mrs Nicola Smith and Mrs H Shoebridge both of them have voting rights) and a Roman Catholic Diocesan representative Mr Damian Cunningham (who also has voting rights). The Chair (who has a casting vote in the event of a tied vote) is a Conservative.
If the call in goes to the Coordinating Committee, the nine Labour councillors can just vote to uphold the Labour Cabinet’s decision as nine is a majority on a fifteen person committee.
However if the call in goes to be decided at the Families and Wellbeing Committee, then Labour councillors only have half the votes (nine out of eighteen) on that committee. If the call in went to this committee and Labour councillors voted to uphold the Cabinet’s decision that would be only nine votes. If the Conservative councillors, plus the Lib Dem councillor, plus the parent governor representative and Roman Catholic Diocesan representative voted to send the decision back to Cabinet to be changed, then there would be a deadlock of nine votes either way. In this case the Conservative Chair would have a casting vote, which is usually used in the same way that that councillor originally voted.
Regulation 3 of the Education (Parent Governor Representatives) Regulations 1999 states “A local education authority shall appoint at least two but not more than five parent governor representatives to each relevant committee of the authority” and “relevant committee” is defined as here as “a committee appointed by a local authority, or by two or more local authorities, in accordance with section 102 of the Local Government Act 1972 wholly or partly for the purpose of discharging any functions which are conferred on the local authority or authorities in its or their capacity as a local education authority or authorities, but it does not include any committee the decisions of which are subject to scrutiny by another committee which is itself a relevant committee.”
So, is the Coordinating Committee making a decision whether or not to uphold the Cabinet decision to consult on closing Lyndale School a function conferred on Wirral Council in its capacity as a local education authority? Yes it is.
Does the Coordinating Committee have parent governor representatives on it? No.
Regulation 10 of the Education (Parent Governor Representatives) Regulations 1999 seems to be quite clear:
Voting rights of parent governor representatives
10. (1) Subject to paragraph (2), a parent governor representative shall be entitled to vote on any of the following matters—
(a) matters which relate to schools maintained by the local education authority;
(b) matters which relate to pupils who are educated in schools maintained by the local education authority, or who are educated by the local education authority otherwise than at school.
(2) A parent governor representative shall not be entitled to vote on the determination of the local education authority’s total revenue expenditure on education or the determination of its total capital expenditure on education.
So I handed the following letter to the Chair of the Coordinating Committee Cllr Stuart Whittingham on the evening of 29th January, who has passed it to Surjit Tour. I had a brief discussion with Cllr Stuart Whittingham after the end of the Transformation and Resources Policy and Performance Committee. Despite reading my letter, he felt confident that the call-in would be decided by the Coordinating Committee on the 5th February.
Strangely a new meeting of the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee appears in the calendar for the 6th February, however as no agenda has been published I cannot say whether this is related to the call in.
134 Boundary Road,
29th January 2014
RE: Lyndale School call in
Dear Cllr Whittingham,
I notice that a meeting of the Coordinating Committee is scheduled on the 5th February to consider the Lyndale School call in.
The Education (Parent Governor Representatives) Regulations 1999 require each “relevant committee” of Wirral Council to have between 2-5 parent governor representatives with voting rights.
“Relevant committee” is defined as a committee that discharges any functions conferred on the authority through it being a local education authority. The Coordinating Committee has no such parent governor representative on it, therefore why is this call in not being decided by the Families and Wellbeing Policy and Performance Committee?
I would appreciate an answer to this point as soon as possible. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
So far at the time of writing this (on the afternoon of the 30th January) I have not yet received a reply.
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