‘Fairer funding’ campaign for Cambridgeshire’s schools has been a stitch-up for many decades

PUBLISHED: 10:38 20 March 2015 | UPDATED: 10:38 20 March 2015

The campaign for ‘fairer funding’ for Cambridgeshire and its schools is again in the news.

I think that the whole thing has been an establishment stitch-up for many decades.

In the late 1970s, when I was chairman of the finance committee of Cambridgeshire County Council, I went with other senior county councillors and the county’s then MPs to see the then relevant Labour secretary of state, Peter Shore.

The councillors and the MPs put Cambridgeshire’s case for ‘fairer funding’. It had no obvious effect and I recall being publicly critical of the role of the Liberal Isle of Ely MP Clement Freud whose party had been supportive (remember the Lib-Lab pact?) of the then Labour government.

I was ticked off by certain people for ‘rocking the boat’ by being critical of Mr Freud.

The campaign for ‘fairer funding’ for Cambridgeshire continued during the Thatcher and Major periods but even with John Major as prime minister it got nowhere.

The establishment of the day didn’t like Major and wasn’t minded to do him or Cambridgeshire any favours.

I recall especially in the early 1990s being a member of the executive committee of the Association of County Councils (ACC) – the then county councils’ ‘trades union’ – and being sent by the then leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, John Horrell, to ‘speak up for Cambridgeshire’ at a crucial meeting in London.

I was accompanied by another senior Conservative Cambridgeshire county councillor, Elaine Wheatley.

There was a private Conservative group meeting before the crucial meeting. Both Mrs Wheatley and I spoke up privately for Cambridgeshire amongst our then fellow Conservatives.

But the Conservative ‘line’ – essentially for ‘no change’ – was privately approved after quite a tight vote. Representatives from Conservative-controlled counties which were beneficiaries of the then funding arrangements didn’t wish to lose out so that the likes of Cambridgeshire might benefit.

In the crucial (and public) ACC meeting that followed, I rose again to speak up for Cambridgeshire – as I had been instructed to by Mr Horrell (who was absent: he had gone instead to the East of England Show) – and, placed as I was beside Mrs Wheatley, I was physically grabbed by her in an attempt to make me sit down and cease speaking against the Conservative ‘line’.

That was another establishment ‘stitch-up’ but by part of the then Cambridgeshire Conservative establishment.

I thought that it was a shocking episode and I continued to stand up and to speak up for Cambridgeshire – on that occasion and many others.

Needless to say, relations between Mrs Wheatley and myself were never the same again and I eventually left the Conservatives.

Lots of efforts have been made since my day and I commend those who have made the efforts. But nothing much has been obtained and nothing much will be obtained whilst the establishment (which is London and Oxford-orientated nowadays) still holds sway.

My children went to Cambridgeshire schools, my grandchildren went to Cambridgeshire schools and my great-grandchildren will be going to Cambridgeshire schools.

I wonder if I will have to wait until my great, great grandchildren are going to Cambridgeshire schools before we obtain ‘fairer funding’ for Cambridgeshire and its schools.

Or will the whole thing continue to be an establishment stitch-up?

GEOFFREY WOOLLARD

St Andrew’s Park

Soham

Via e-mail


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