Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Medway council and the Woodlands school fiasco and the primary school fiasco.

This Friday the Medway press was again rocked by the over budget spending that saw the cost to the tax payer rise from £750k to £2-3 million!
By all accounts the whole affair has been a catalogue of issues and irregularities that contradicts itself so hold on tight - I'm going to try and unravel it!

First off the school proposed building works, which should by UK and European law be opened up to a fair tender process but the job was in fact given to the part time caretaker Tony Ridington the husband of the deputy head and owner of the ANTRAD on the basis that he was; "READY TO GO."

An estimate of £750k was delivered and agreed. The council, understandably- has, in Councillor Jarrett's words, a "slush fund" which can absorb any unexpected problems should they occur.

Two unnamed council officials instructed Mr Riddington, in the presence of Nic Fiddaman- the head teacher to "Get on with it." Mr Fiddaman stated that;
"Why would I take on such a project with no guarantee of funding from Medway Council?"


Another building project at the school was in need of a cash injection and Mr Fiddaman was forced to raise £200k and take out a second mortgage to raise the money.
It may have been for this reason that the Chairman of the board of governors Mrs Elena Mutter-Child ordered him to leave the project alone. Consequently Mr Fiddaman considered the project out of his hands.
BUT - he still signed the cheques for payment etc. Mostly on the principle that Mr Riddington was a "Good Chap."

Councillor Jarrett, who is the Council's portfolio holder says;
"There is complete denial of culpability on the part of the school.  The school is culpable and presided over a catalogue of errors. The management seems to be in complete denial"

One of the errors appears to have been the discovery of Asbestos which was exposed builders, visitors, pupils and teachers to a dangerous substance. The later assessment is that it is "Unlikely" anyone is in danger but any builder worth their salt would have checked for asbestos or the likelihood of its presence before work began.
Asbestos has to be removed properly and professionally - which is expensive. It would be a fair reason for the price of the works to shoot up and for building time to shoot up. Could this be a case of a mountain out of a molehill? No one will know until a thorough investigation is undertaken.

The school itself should take a fair amount of responsibility for what has happened and there seems to be no clear cut answer as to who was responsible for what as no one person was in charge. Questions should be asked of the Chairman of the Governors as to why she told Mr Fiddaman to not be involved, then again Mr Fiddaman should have begun to question the amount of cheques he was signing.
Someone at the council signed the project off AND continued to feed in money without keeping tabs or asking for paper work. Surely warning signals should have been seen before now.
Money from Councillor Jarrett's "slush fund" was being poured down this bottomless pit and other schools have obviously missed out on funding. As Councillor Jarrett holds the finance portfolio isn't he ultimately responsible for council spending? Are his protestations merely passing the buck away from himself?

Deborah Upton, a council officer who wrote a report on the incident has stated the Council had not even kept records to keep track of what had gone wrong!

By all accounts the fiasco has caused a serious kerfuffle in the Council chambers with Councillor Mackness (con) demanding a Police inquiry and Councillor Griffiths (lab) stating;

Potential criminal investigations should take place with the main contractor, certainly where payments have been made for things that should not have been paid.

Mr Riddington has said that he can supply documents that back up every spending request to show there was no wrong doing.

The good news is now the Council have taken charge and appointed a builder. The works will be completed by September at a cost of £1.8m.

This whole fiasco shows both the school and the Council in quite a bad light.

In other news across Medway...

In 2009 the council agreed to a massive overhaul of the primary education system with closures announced. Anyone who walked along Medway high streets will remember the impassioned pleas and petitions to keep schools opened.
The council heard from groups that with Medway growing as a place and with the rise in Birth rates closing schools would be madness. The council disagreed. Six infant and junior schools were to be amalgamated and Ridge meadow school closed. St Peter's and St John's schools managed to lobby successfully but Ridge meadow closed.

Councillor Jarrett says;

St Peter's and St John's are not at capacity and the case for Ridge Meadow was very compelling. That school was losing money.
Ridge meadow is in Walderslade. There is no upcoming pressure there.

Now Rose Collinson, the council's director of children and adults has produced a report showing that the Birth rate is up by 10% and that pressure will build up in Rochester and Chatham for school places. There is also an upsurge in the level of families moving into Medway too!

This can be added to news on this blog reported here...

It appears that the council is mismanaging our education system. They should have listened to the lobbyists at the time and carried out a study to see if the grounds for the building schools in the future was needed. Also closing a school that is losing money is not a good reason, after all Woodlands has just cost the taxpayer £1.8m... Its bad for the children who have to be uprooted and moved to a new school and parents. The issue could have been handled so much better.

Education isn't being handled properly by Medway council. Our Children will and are suffering and our taxpayers money is being wasted. Something needs to be done.

1 comment:

  1. Good post on Woodlands etc. Would you be willing to re-post this for independent community newspaper The Medway Broadside? There's more information on the paper here: http://www.themedwaybroadside.com/about/. Thanks, Andrew (Ed.)