One of my roles is as a co-opted member of the County Council Scrutiny Committee known as the Prosperous Staffordshire Select Committee. This is composed of County Councillors and a small number of co-opted members to scrutinise the proposals of the cabinet regarding a range of policy areas. My co-optee status is principally around education but also cover other areas from waste management to infrastructure.
I will update here after each meeting some areas of discussion and my reflections from the meeting. The minutes from the meeting are also available and my coments relate only as an introduction and for full details please see the papers from the Council Website
My first observation did not relate to the papers but the lack of labour opposition councillors at the meeting, I don’t know why and it is unusual, but scrutiny from oppostion should, to me, be a key part of democratic process – disappointing.
This time there were three areas for scrutiny
- Adult community learning
- School places infrastructure
- Local plan for minerals
Adult Community Learning
This was a wide ranging discussion of the success of engagement with around 10,000 adult learners across a wide range of subject from learning for work to interest learning for hobbies. The discussion regarding future funding will be interesting as pressure comes to bear on the budget from cuts and in particular learning learning linked to hobbies and interests. We discussed the pressures from the changing employment picture in the County and those helped in to employment would need a wider range of skills and development to move from minimum wage, zero hour employment to rewarding careers based on skill and fulfilling potential. We will see how the budget cuts affect this in coming years. Another area of discussion was the maintenance of standards as rated by Ofsted as good with outstanding features or better with a dispersed delivery model of commissioned services. The challenges were recognised and with Ofsted revisiting the County to assess this anytime after September we will see how this is judged.
This is coming back in March 2016 and will update on progress then
School Places Infrastructure
This is an important paper to plan the places for school pupils to cope with housing developments and population increases across the County. This is a thorough piece of work which I know has taken many hours to produce over many months. The central reason for its importance is the need for District/Borough Councils to work in conjunction with the County Council to ensure sufficient school places are available for all the children. The County has a responsibility to ensure pupils attend schools and the District/Borough have responsibility for planning. Investment is also reliant upon section 106 agreements (or infrastructure development grants) from the developers and all three of these need to meet to ensure this all works where school buildings are moving outside of local authority control as academies and free schools. It is a pressure box and shows some areas where a lack of collaboration has created local problems.
Hopefully this document will cut through the party politics, friction of District/Borough and County Councilllors and Responsibilities and the personalities and pride which may get in the way of adequate school provision for our children
Minerals Local Plan for Staffordshire
This, again, is an extensive document which has been through the committee a number of occasions, but the first time for me I think. First thing to mention is that it is an in-depth read and has been studied and commented upon by many over the last year or so. Second thing to highlight is that there is an ongoing consultation finishing on 31st July and would encourage you to comment as you see fit. click here. I will be commenting and will post specificially around the policies of fracking before next Friday.
Our next meeting in September will discuss the Countryside Estate amongst other things and would encourage you to support our campaign to highlight the need to keep private profit out of our Countryside and sign the petition.