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‘Secret’ and ‘Undemocratic’ Decisions denounced

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Island MP Andrew Turner has denounced as ‘secret’ and ‘undemocratic’ decisions taken about the future of the Isle of Wight by ‘Island Futures’, the local strategic partnership (LSP), from which the local press was deliberately excluded and details of meetings not published.

The LSP, Mr Turner said, was ‘taking decisions, which may have a major impact on the future of the Island’ in secret, including determination of targets for a major submission for Government funding which was considered on Friday afternoon, 14th October.

Mr Turner added :

“The membership of the ‘Island Futures’ executive and its officer steering group are, to most people, a mystery. However, until 27th June it included no members of the Council as elected in May, but three members of the old council [Ex-councillors Mrs Smart, Mrs Butchers, Mrs Wareham and . Two of them remained so-called ‘theme champions’, despite their policies being rejected by Islanders in the Council elections in May, even beyond the AGM, and Jill Wareham remains the ‘theme champion’ for education, despite her period of responsibility for the Island’s schools being one of the most disastrous on record. Yet this body claimed the right to sit in private – they actually voted against the press being invited to attend – and to make decisions for the future of the Island.”

Of the submission for Government funding, Mr Turner said in a letter (copy attached) to Cllr Andy Sutton, who took over the chairmanship of Island Futures in June: “Because none of this has been discussed in public, a number of the so-called ‘theme champions’ were committee chairmen in the last discredited administration, and the whole structure is profoundly undemocratic, I urge you to consult Islanders on this submission before it is finalised with the ODPM.

“It is important that Islanders support these targets, otherwise they will not be met. It is no good officers of various public bodies just talking to each other, as has happened with the development of these targets over the summer. They may be completely out of touch with the public. That is why I am asking for a full public consultation to take place before these plans are finally agreed with the Government.”

END

Contact: Andrew Turner 01983 530808

Note: ‘Island Futures’, the IW’s local strategic partnership, was set up by the former administration of the IW Council to conform with legislation introduced by the Labour Government during its first term of office.

Follows: Text of letter from Andrew Turner MP to Cllr Andy Sutton, Leader of the IW Council and chairman of the local strategic partnership:

Island 2020 Vision and Local Strategic Partnership

I was appalled to find out the extent to which decisions, which may have a major impact on the future of the Island, have been taken in secret by the Local Strategic Partnership.

It is greatly to your credit that you have decided to publish the minutes and agenda of these meetings and I understand that in future meeting should take place in public.

The LSP was, of course, set up by your predecessors at the Isle of Wight Council, and today you are considering the final version of a major submission for Government funding. Because none of this has been discussed in public, a number of the so-called ‘theme champions’ were committee chairmen in the last discredited administration, and the whole structure is profoundly undemocratic, I urge you to consult Islanders on this submission before it is finalised with the ODPM.

My particular concerns are:

(a) the omission of any reference to the environment, which is perhaps the greatest asset the Island has in attracting both visitors and high value investors;

(b) that the objectives omit any reference to the prevention of family breakdown. It is accepted, even by Government ministers, that family breakdown is a key cause of ill-health, truancy, crime and low educational achievement, and sadly more and more children are being brought up without the support of their two parents. I hope that the Partnership will consider including this as one of their highest level targets.

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Broadlands jobs safe

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Island MP Andrew Turner has received confirmation that the future of jobs and services at Broadlands House are secure following press reports that previously announced new jobs would not now be coming to the Island. Mr Turner said that yesterday’s press reports were completely at odds with assurances he had received both from the Minister last summer and the regional manager as recently as November last year. On hearing the reports that plans had changed he contacted the senior management of JobCentre Plus to seek clarification of the position.

Mr Turner said

“I have now received definite confirmation that the plans of Jobcentre Plus have not changed and that they will be keeping a benefit processing centre on the Island as well as establishing one of only two national insurance number processing centres here. I have been told that the additional jobs will arise as their plans are implemented over the coming months.”

Mr Turner went on to say

“During our meeting last November Guy Tompkins Jobcentre Plus’s regional manager was very complimentary about their workforce on the Island and told me that the positive approach of the staff was one of the reasons why they planned to expand on the Island. I am very glad that they see the sense of bringing work to the Island rather than taking it to the mainland and I will continue to press Government to follow their example.

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School Reorganization – Where will £70m come from?

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Government have denied promising the IW Council £70 million to pay for reorganizing Island schools from a three- to a two-tier system. And the Island’s MP has criticized the ‘optimistic noises’ on funding given at consultation meetings.

In a Parliamentary Answer to Island MP Andrew Turner it was revealed that there have been absolutely no promises from the Government to provide the estimated £70 million needed for the changes being proposed by council officials. In answering Mr Turner, Stephen Twigg MP, the Minister responsible for school funding, made it clear that the Isle of Wight council has received no assurances that extra money will be made available for the proposed changeover. Mr Turner has criticized the impression given to parents and teachers that obtaining the money needed from central government would not present a problem.

Andrew Turner said,

“During the meeting I attended at Sandown High School it was clearly stated that ‘we can get’ the £70 million needed to change the system. I was surprised to hear that because that simply isn’t the way that Government works. I have asked the Government what promises they have given and they have clearly told me that they have given none. I have now asked the Council what led them to give such a misleading impression to those who went to the trouble of attending the meeting. I have been told that there have been informal meetings with government officials who support these proposals – I am afraid that does not represent government spending commitments. Frankly I am shocked that optimistic noises were made which misled people.”

Exam results and education standards on the Island are far below the national average and the recent report costing £100,000 by 4S recommended changing the system but did not provide any evidence that this alone would improve standards. Mr Turner went on to say:

“There may well be arguments for changing the system – but changing the system does not guarantee improving standards; the issues should not be mixed up. Even the advocates of change admit it would cost a fortune. If that money does not come from central government it will have to come from existing council budgets and be topped up by Island council taxpayers.

“It is at very least disingenuous to suggest that finding the money to achieve change is not an important issue that needs to be discussed as part of these proposals. I am worried that the Council seems to believe that informal discussions with civil servants translates into promises of many millions of pounds – sadly that is not the case.

“We need to raise standards but that is best done by the Council accepting that some schools are better than others, publishing that information to parents, governors, teachers and the wider public, and tackling the problems on a school-by-school basis. It is not as glamorous as being the architect of a whole new system, but it is much more likely to give our children the quality schooling they deserve.”

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Contact : Andrew Turner 01983 530808

School Building (Isle of Wight)

Mr. Andrew Turner: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what (a) commitments and (b) undertakings she has made to the Isle of Wight Council regarding future capital allocations provided (i) through the Building Schools for the Future programme or (ii) otherwise, whether (A) contingent on or (B) not contingent on school reorganisation. [216280]

Mr. Stephen Twigg: A letter has been sent to all council leaders stating that, for authorities not prioritised in the first three waves of Building Schools for the Future (BSF), including the Isle of Wight, we are determined to make a start on BSF plans between 2005–06 and 2010–11. Our ambition is that in the next full Parliament, subject to future spending decisions, 60 per cent. of all authorities will have started in the BSF programme, or else be given resources to renew at least one secondary school with the greatest need as a school for the future, or as an academy. Each BSF scheme will be judged on its merits, and is not necessarily contingent on school reorganisation. Other capital allocations to the council and its schools were announced on 30 November, and are set out in the following table:

£000
2006–07 14,853
2007–08 15,446

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Can we become a Fairtrade Island?

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As World Fair Trade Fortnight draws to a close this Sunday the Island’s MP Andrew Turner has praised the work of the IW Fairtrade Forum. The Forum is working towards the accolade of Fairtrade Island by building on existing users and suppliers of Fairtrade products to spread the word about the products and the good they do for their producers in the developing world. There are now more than 250 products bearing the distinctive green and blue logo which guarantees a fair deal to producers of such items as coffee, tea, sugar and bananas.

Andrew Turner said,

“The Fairtrade product range has expanded over recent years and whilst once they were seen as an expensive alternative they now offer good value and quality. In order to become a Fairtrade Island we need more suppliers of the products so everybody really can make a difference by asking their local coffee shop or convenience store to stock a few items from the range. As the largest constituency in the country the Island gaining this accolade really would make a difference and give a boost to the national campaign. Fairtrade really makes a difference to those communities that need a helping hand – and I know that on the Island we have a really caring and compassionate community”.

Jim Curtis the co-ordinator of the IW Fairtrade Forum said

“I very much value Andrew’s support for this campaign. In order for the Island to be recognised in this way we need the active support of the Isle of Wight council as well as that of suppliers across the Island. I urge everyone to let their local councillors know that they would be proud to see us become a Fairtrade Island helping less fortunate people to take control of their own lives and build themselves a better future.

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